To the extent that contemporary culture is, by definition, current, it does have a much more immediate impact on students and people in general than do the arts and literature of the past. Contemporaneous events directly affect everyone alive at the time because they are occurring at precisely the same time as the individual's existence. But to paraphrase a famous philosopher: "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." To a great extent, past arts and literature shape who we are as people at least as much as, if not more than, contemporary culture does.
Everyone alive today is affected in one way or another by the events of the past. Past events have directly led to the way that the world is shaped today. The arts and literature are one of the most well-preserved and documented resources that can give us a direct link into what actually happened in the past.
Consider the religious writings of the Bible, the Koran and those of Confucius, as well as those related to Buddhism, Hinduism and all other religions. These writings directly relate to, and in some cases to a great extent control, the behavior of human beings today even though most were written hundreds if not thousands of years ago. Artworks relating to these religions also have a profound effect. Consider Michelangelo's work in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, or the vast myriad of historic Buddhist statues throughout Asia, or the ancient Muslim mosques throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. It would be difficult to argue that contemporary culture has more relevance to today's students when compared with the relevance of these examples of past arts and literature.
At times it is difficult to determine what exactly is the difference between contemporary culture and the...