The Arts: Interrelationships & Connections to Other Subjects

Instructor: Haddy Kreie

Haddy is ABD in Theatre Studies and has taught college theatre for 7 years.

The arts connect with many of the other areas of our lives, including communication, history, anthropology, and science. In this lesson, see how various visual and performing arts communicate points of view and shape the way communities think and identify themselves.

Artists Connect

Whether you think of the arts as merely entertainment or as something more, they inevitably impact the ways that societies change and grow. The arts have a long history of intersecting with many areas of our lives. Think of artists and scientists collaborating to create models of the universe, or of commercial advertisers using creativity and imagination to sell products.

Though the intersections between the arts and other subjects are endless, let's take a look at how the visual and performing arts connect with communication, history, and anthropology.

Art as Communication

The visual and performing arts are powerful tools for communication. They allow artists to communicate particular points of view or express attitudes or sentiments about an aspect of society that often stem from personal experience. They also allow artists to cultivate particular responses in their audiences that reflect their social critiques.

Feminist theatre is a great example of a performing art that communicates a strong point of view. Feminist theatre is often created by a collective rather than individual authors and directors, communicating the idea that all voices deserve to be heard, a sentiment that stems from societal repression of women's voices.

The choices artists make also affect how viewers respond to works of art. For example, from the point of view of the Dadaists, the upperclass of society had a very narrow conception of what constituted art.

The Dadaists defied these standards to shock and repulse the elite audiences. Artist Marcel Duchamp even displayed a urinal as a work of art. In this way, he communicated his repulsion at the state of the art world while also eliciting a reflective feeling of repulsion in his viewers.

Dada art often defied standards to shock and repulse the elite
duchamp urinal

Art In and As History

Studying art in history helps us to understand different historical contexts and the ways that art has been deployed throughout history to inform and persuade audiences. Particular art movements in their historical context can give a more rounded view of the sentiment of that period than if you just looked to federal records and documents.


Abstract Expressionism, which emerged just after WW2, reveals much about the state of society and its changing values after a devastating world war. Frustrated and demoralized by the unprecedented violence, artists felt unable to realistically represent some of the things they had experienced. They turned to action painting and abstraction to capture extreme emotions.

Abstract Expressionist art reflects the chaos of its historical period
abstract expressionism

The period leading up to WW2 demonstrates how art can be used to persuade audiences. The Nazis relied heavily on poster art propaganda to shore up public support and sew distrust of Jewish people, people of color, and gay people. Commercially produced art uses explicit messaging to persuade audiences to a particular cause.

Persuasion With Dramatic Effect

Various art forms also complement each other and can be combined for a more intense effect. When the visual arts, drama, and music are combined in the form of cinematography, for example, the power of the arts to inform and persuade intensifies.

Consider the recent upsurge in environmental documentaries. This type of film uses strong visual imagery and musical accompaniment to dramatize particular environmental messages. By using the arts, the documentaries also play on the audiences emotions to convey the information in ways that resonate more strongly.

Art as Anthropology

Art can have a profound impact on how cultures and societies develop and change over time. Historically, art objects have been used to distinguish cultural groups from one another, or to communicate similarities or differences among people. More recently, especially in mass media and commercial ventures, art has the power to shape the way that cultural identities are formed, or enforce certain values that make up who we think we are.

Cloth and beaded jewelry signify membership in this Masai group

Historically, art objects have been used to identify particular tribes or groups of people. For example, the Masai in east Africa use different systems of beading to mark women as either married or unmarried, and to distinguish themselves from other neighboring ethnic groups.

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