So I decided to retitle this blog. The original ‘Music, Books, Film, &c’ had the advantage of being upfront and descriptive of its contents but on the downside was a little literal and lackadaisical since I am very bad at thinking up pithy or memorable titles for anything (essays and papers included). Can you tell that I like alliteration?

Anyhow, ‘Jolly Good Stuff in the Fine Arts’ fits the bill quite well for a blog that (currently) includes posts of praise on art, film, literature and music, if what we’re going for is a title that describes the contents. (One should not underestimate the importance of titles befitting their contents.) The travel portion is a little tricky but it does offer insight into (the rest of) this world and the people in it, much like the fine arts. I always do feel that, by imbibing good books, good music, good film/television, and good art, one can become more learned and yet more humble simultaneously.

Though I’ve had a lifelong appreciation of the fine arts, I studied science subjects all the way through my Singapore education (although I did 4 years of history and English literature during secondary school) and am tremendously thankful that I decided to make a switch to the social sciences in university. Luckily the University College of Oxford decided that this biology/chemistry/physics/mathematics student was worth taking a chance on, and accepted me to study 3 years of Philosophy, Politics and Economics. I am absolutely a better person for it and I think many others would have a similar benefit as well. They don’t call ’em the humanities subjects for nothing.

Apropos of this, here are some thoughts from someone who would evidently agree with me, Professor David W. Oxtoby, president of Pomona College in the USA. Excerpts from his speech last week to the National University of Singapore faculty, reproduced in The Straits Times:

A liberal arts education at its deepest aims to teach students the skills they need to function effectively in a democracy.
A devastating critique of society and education by the 19th century sociologist Max Weber is relevant here. ‘In a modern state, the actual ruler is necessarily and unavoidably the bureaucracy,’ he said, ‘since power is exercised… through the routines of administration.’ Even more harshly, Weber said: ‘The world could one day be filled with nothing but those little cogs, little men clinging to little jobs…’
Weber argued that education needed to focus not just on the training of specialized experts to sustain a bureaucracy, but also on the education of statesmen who can change that bureaucracy. In this regard, he held out the goal of educating the ‘cultivated man’ who can stand outside of a bureaucratic structure, critique it and transform it. This, to me, is the central purpose of liberal education.
… we must recognize that we are not only educating our students to move into professions; we are also preparing citizens who can help the world make wise decisions. Education for responsible citizens needs to be a core goal. As technical challenges influence our daily lives more each year, everyone needs a more advanced understanding of the scientific method, and the quantitative meaning of probability and uncertainty. As we become more globally inter-connected, every college graduate needs to understand not only economics and politics, but also religion and culture.