The Korea Herald


[Herald-Pioneer Essay Contest] The Arts and Humanities in Troubled Times

By Korea Herald

Published : Jan. 31, 2023 - 09:00

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By Lee Heewon

Cheongshim International Academy

Below is a winning essay from The Herald-Pioneer Essay Contest. -- Ed.

In a day of rapid technological advancement and unpredictable job markets, it is easy to doubt the importance of the arts and humanities. After all, as schools and businesses place more emphasis on computer science and engineering, what room would there be left for music, art, literature, and philosophy to stand? University admissions in the arts and humanities are steadily declining every year1, but this should not mean that these fields are no longer relevant. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated society’s affinity to the arts and humanities in times of crisis: novel sales increased sharply in the first year2 and scholars turned to pandemic history to draw solutions from the past. In the socioeconomic instability of the pandemic, we must turn to literature, art, history, and philosophy for answers. For several reasons, I believe that the arts and humanities are vastly more important in troubled times.

First, the arts and humanities enrichen life. South Korea has a contemporary tradition of painting murals in dying neighbourhoods. The goal of such projects is to create a brighter, livelier atmosphere in underprivileged urban areas to prevent them from falling into abandonment and decay. The arts and humanities have a similar effect on troubled minds. A number of studies indicate that frequent engagement in visual arts, music, literature, and the studies of history, philosophy, and religion can brighten and increase one’s general quality of life. For example, a 2017 sampling study indicated that visiting galleries, museums, music concerts, and libraries were some of the happiest activities an individual could experience.3 Similarly, exposure to visual art has proven to be linked with increased levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of well-being.4 In addition, the arts and humanities communicate diverse experiences, emotions, and opinions, providing those who constantly engage in these fields with diverse perspectives of life.5 Anyone will be able to recall an experience when they had a moment of epiphany after reading an insightful poem, listening to a heartfelt song, or seeing a meaningful painting. These moments of epiphany shift and broaden our worldviews and change the ways we perceive life for the better. The arts and humanities can therefore guide people to achieve greater cognitive understanding of the world and live happier, psychologically enrichened lives, even in the midst of instability.


In addition, the arts and humanities provide creative media for people to express themselves. The COVID-19 pandemic was accompanied by a rise in reports of consistent feelings of depression and lethargy, a phenomenon nicknamed the ‘Corona Blue’ in Korea6. In months of isolation, people required healthy methods to express their frustrations in productive methods. The arts and humanities are highly creative fields that provide participants with ample opportunities to do so. The COVID-19 pandemic alone has inspired countless writers, philosophers, and artists alike to analyse the pandemic’s struggles and express their experiences. For example, a recent art program funded by Arts Council Korea to support artists in the pandemic has illustrated the significance of art in times of crisis. Musicians, photographers, and painters produced thousands of works depicting their daily lives in quarantine, personal emotions of isolation, and issues of contemporary society,7 sharing their insights with local communities.

Finally, the arts and humanities are records of history. As the pandemic began, Albert Camus’s The Plague, a 1947 novel about a city suffering in a pandemic, sharply rose in sales. People began looking to pandemic literature and historical records of past pandemics to understand the sudden onslaught of instability and turmoil. The arts and humanities carry lessons from those who came before us and help us understand the world, and allow us to pass our own lessons to future generations. Our beliefs become philosophy and our experiences become history. We carry on the unbreaking thread of wisdom in which we seek, revere, and criticise the judgement of those who walked before us and pass on what we learn to those who will walk after. We live in literature and history, breathe in art and music, trust in philosophy and religion. We draw maps of where we are today and refer to past stories to find our way through the dark. We continue on our eternal journey to find what it means to be human. We rewrite ourselves every day. The study of arts and humanities serves as our pen.

In conclusion, the arts and humanities are more important than ever during troubled times because these fields psychologically enrichen life, provide creative media for the expression of pent-up thoughts and emotions, and serve as carriers of wisdom which can be referred to during times of crisis. To neglect the arts and humanities during times of trouble is to let a failing town deteriorate into a barren wasteland. It is to strip the colour off of walls and rooftops. Without the beauties of art, film, and music, and without the rich wisdom of literature, philosophy, and religion, human life will become devoid of all that makes it pleasurable. If not the arts and humanities, where will we seek refuge during times of crisis? What will make us happy, unlock the secrets of life, provide us with reassurance and wisdom? The answers to our struggles in today’s pandemic, and in subsequent times of trouble that will follow, lie in the arts and humanities.



* The competition was mutually organized by The Korea Herald and Pioneer Academics. This essay was submitted to and selected by the Pioneer Academics Research Program, the world’s only fully-accredited online research program for high school students. The essay was reviewed by Mr. Brian Cooper, who was the former the director of Duke University’s Talent Identification Program (TIP), and currently leads the Research & Development department at Pioneer Academics. The Pioneer Academics Research Program has world’s only online academic system that is trusted and recognized by the most selective universities and colleges.