In the Heart of Matter: What the Arts and Humanities Teach

By Emily Tworek, Class of 2020

“The case for the humanities is not hard to make, though it can be difficult–to such an extent have we been marginalized, so long have we acceded to that marginalization–not to sound either defensive or naive. The humanities, done right, are the crucible in which our evolving notions of what it means to be fully human are put to the test; they teach us, incrementally, endlessly, not what to do, but how to be.” –Mark Slouka

October is the National Arts & Humanities month in the United States. What does that mean, beyond a nominal celebration of abstract concepts like the arts and humanities? It means evaluating our own relationships with art and the human-centric world around us, acknowledging the role these disciplines have in shaping our lives, and reaffirming why we study and live them in the first place. 

Rochester’s not the first school many think of for excellence in the arts and humanities. To many, we’re a university of scientists, engineers, life-savers, doctors, economists, Nobel Prize winners, and researchers. Of course, this is only part of the story: our excellence extends to all disciplines, and especially to the arts and humanities in unexpected ways. 

So, what do arts and humanities mean to Rochester? How do we celebrate this part of our identity not just this month, but every day? Our community was quick to answer. 

In the ways we communicate with each other….

“The arts, and dance specifically, is a way of life for me. It is my community, and the way I relate to people and the world around me.  I express my concerns and joys, my histories and dreams, my struggles, values and beliefs, and my hopes for the future through my art-making and performance, and through my teaching of people, dance, and creative process.  It is through the arts that we can see one another as human, that we celebrate our differences, that we listen, respond and connect. Through the arts, we follow our curiosities and learn about the world, we surprise and challenge one another, we play, we work, we investigate and we discover who we are.” -Missy Pfohl Smith, Director of the Program of Dance and Movement and the Institute of the Performing Arts

In the ways we describe and understand our world…

“There’s this new Joy Williams story in The New Yorker that ends (spoilers ahead) with a conversation between a human and a dog. The dog, a visiting artist, is dismayed to find that his hired transcriber has been deaf all along, and merely writing down what they imagine he is reciting. The other party, our human narrator, is only another assistant to the visiting artist-dog, a sort of liaison for his fellowship, but they’re still essential to the story for their insider’s POV and opposable thumbs. After a lot of talk about the nature of art and of movement, the two collaborate on how the dog’s dark coat will be described by the human: he will say it is like “devil’s food-cake.” It’s maybe the most unexpected turn in an ending no one can see coming, and it serves as one of the best descriptions of the arts that I have yet seen: the banal and the fantastical working together to describe things exactly how they are, but in words that no one else could come up with.” -John Pinto, ‘20.

In how we tell and create stories…

“The reason why I love acting is because it allows you to let yourself live in worlds that you could, otherwise, only dream about. When I’m acting and I’m really in the moment, truly living in my character, I can be anyone, anywhere, in any time period, living any kind of life. Time and time again– and always in different ways– I get to explore the very essence of what it means to be a human, which is really what the humanities are all about.” -Olivia Banc, ‘21

And in how we form connections with others, and within ourselves…

“Growing up, dance and theater helped me find confidence in my body and my voice, and working on theater productions was the first time I saw how exciting it can be to work together with others to create something. As a STEM major in college, I do the majority of my work individually, so I really value the collaborative community from student arts groups, and I enjoy being creative in very different ways. It’s equally as exciting to see a group of dancers perform my choreography onstage as it is to successfully run a computer program I wrote!” -Rebecca Sarin, ‘21

The arts and humanities are essential to human existence. They teach us to think about the world in creative ways and to constantly think about ways to improve it.

This month, we celebrate all that the arts and humanities are and inspire us to be: creative individuals who have the power to make the world better every day. 

Here’s a few ways to celebrate National Arts and Humanities Month:

  • See The Grown Up at Todd Theater October 3-12
  • Listen to literary giant Christopher Castellani speak at the first Plutzik Reading Series event of the year, October 30th
  • Try Contra Dance with the Program of Dance & Movement on October 4th
  • Explore the intersection of music and movement with Meredith Monk on October 21st. Bonus points if you attend her master class the next day. 
  • Spend time at Rochester’s annual ImageOut Festival, a yearly festival of LGBTQ+ cinema, held October 10-20.
  • Catch a show at Geva Theater: La Cage Aux Folles, through October 6th, or The Niceties, opening October 22nd. 
  • Experience the end of some of the world’s most beautiful languages at the George Eastman Museum with an installation that opens October 15th, and while you’re there, learn about photography through the lenses of generations of immigrant photographers in a separate installation opening on October 26th.
  • Get inspired at the Memorial Art Gallery, with an exhibit highlighting the eclectic beauty of Rochester until October 27th.
  • Catch Blackfriars Theatre’s production of Detroit ‘67, opening October 17th.
  • Spend an evening with musical genius Jon Batiste, or an afternoon with acclaimed novelist Ann Patchett, at this year’s Meliora Weekend festivities.

About the author


URAdmissions features guest bloggers (both students and staff) who write about specialized programs, events, and opportunities at Rochester.

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