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Goals of Culture and Art
Lecture to the International Institute of Communications, Kuala Lumpur, September 1999. Also on the site of the International Institute of Communications, (http://www.iicom.org).
Published electronically in TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften, vol. 1, Vienna, (http://www.adis.at/arlt/institut/trans/0Nr/veltman1.htm).
Culture is a many splendoured thing with many definitions.1 In the West, culture is often associated with the fine arts (painting and sculpture) and the performing arts (opera, ballet, symphony, music, theatre). In other parts of the world it includes many other aspects. In Ancient China, for instance, "calligraphy, poetry and painting" were considered the three perfections.2 In modern China culture one definition of culture is "mass media, education, art and sports."3 In the Arab net4, culture is defined primarily in terms of "people, language, food, media and religion." Other categories of culture on Arab net include: arts, beekeeping, calendar, ceramics, clothing, embroidery, frankincense, the Hajj, jewellery, tents of the Arabian desert and the role of women.5
Cultural heritage is certainly much more than paintings in galleries and objects in museums. As UNESCO has made us aware cultural heritage includes archaeological sites, historical cities and remarkable natural sites (e.g. Plitvice Waterfalls in Croatia).6 At a deeper level cultural heritage is a key to understanding how each culture has its own principles of knowledge organisation, interpretation and expression. Culture relates to how we see the world differently and is thus closely linked with philosophy, our principles of truth, our theory and practice of society. Culture relates to how we learn and how we transmit what we know in different ways. Culture and education are thus intimately linked.
The Internet is global and all over the world there are efforts to digitize essential aspects of different cultures. In connection with the G7 exhibition on the Information Society (Brussels, February 1995), for instance, eleven pilot projects were initiated, including Multimedia Access to World Cultural Heritage. At the European level, this was complemented by a Memorandum of Understanding for Multimedia Access to Europe's Cultural Heritage, which has led (October 1998) to the MEDICI Framework.7 Meanwhile, UNESCO has a collection of World Heritage8 sites and a Memory of the World Project.9 In October 1999, the government of Italy in conjunction with UNESCO and the World Bank will sponsor a conference on culture and business.
There are at least four fundamental problems facing such endeavours. First, there is a problem of money. As Philippe Quéau at UNESCO has pointed out the annual budget of UNESCO is equal to seven minutes of the annual budget of the U.S. military. Perhaps if persons become more aware of the inestimable value of culture, even in its purely economic implications through tourism, there will be more support for the approaches here outlined. Ultimately culture is about understanding others. If this existed there would be no need for senseless wars such as Kosovo, and we could use our scarce resources much more sensibly.
Second, there are obvious questions of standards to ensure interoperability of the pipelines, of different hardware and software.10 Third, there are problems of interoperability of content which need to be solved if text, images and multimedia produced in one part of the world are to be accessible in other parts of the world.11 Fourth, and this is the focus of the present paper, there is a problem of developing new frameworks to study and to understand the enormous amounts of materials which are becoming available.
For instance, one of the traditional fields for the study of culture is art history. Most treatments of this field are on a national basis: hence there are studies of Italian, French, German, Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian, Australian, Canadian and American art.
Some treatments are in terms of the world's great religions: e.g. Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, and Jewish art. Although standard university textbooks such as Janson's History of Art make token efforts to acknowledge major cultures such as India, China Japan and Islam, they remain essentially Eurocentric in their vision. Indeed, on closer inspection we find that these textbooks are frequently written by scholars in or with access to major centres such as Vienna, Paris, London, Berlin, or New York. The experts cited what was familiar to them. Hence, the paintings of those centres have typically defined our canons of art and culture. We need new canons, which reflect more universal values.
This paper begins by exploring dimensions of culture beyond the fine arts, with particular reference to those in non-European cultures. Two goals of art in non-literate societies are identified. This leads to a re-examination of fundamental goals of culture in a European context with a view to using these for a more international view of art and culture. Section four addresses briefly some global threats to culture. Section five outlines the need for a world map of cultural values, which leads to consideration of some of the problems concerning meta-data which are implicit in such a quest.
Many of the specific examples will remain those of Western art. No attempt will be made to be comprehensive in our treatment of all cultural objects and expressions. Our concern, rather, is to explore a framework which will allow a balanced study of all cultures in order that we can approach seriously the challenges posed by seeking Multimedia Access to World Cultural Heritage.
2. Culture Beyond Art
As noted above, there is a tendency in the West to associate culture particularly with the fine arts, i.e., painting and sculpture, and the performing arts, symphony, opera, ballet and theatre. One of the interesting paradoxes of the West is that these two strands of culture, the fine arts and the performing arts often exist as if in competition. The audiences who go the performing arts are often different from the “vidiences” who go to museums and galleries. At a more subtle level the themes used are also rather different. The fine arts rely heavily on the Bible, the Lives of the Saints and the great classics of literature: the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Divine Comedy. The performing arts often rely on different literary sources. Wagner’s operas rely on the legends of the Niebelungen, the tale of Tristan and Isolde. The story of Romeo and Juliet inspired Shakespeare to write one of the greatest theatrical plays, and Tschaikovsky to write one of the greatest operas of all time. These Western literary sources for the performing arts inspired none of the greatest paintings of all time.
People Language Food Media Religion Other Categories
Algeria x x x
Bahrain x x x Living in
Egypt x x x x Population, Arts, Artists, Beekeeping
Iraq x x
Jordan x x Drink, Embroidery, Ceramics,
Pottery, Jewellery, Weaving,
Basketry, Blown Glass
Kuwait x x x x Society, Education, ForeignWorkers
Lebanon x x x Drink, Education, Arts
Mauritania x x Traditions
Morocco x x x Moroccan Pottery
Oman x x
Qatar x x x
Saudi x x x x Clothing, Calendar, Arts, Bedouin
Gahwa (Coffee Making), Hajj-Pilgrimage to Makkah, A Middle Eastern Lilliput, Jewellery, Miswak- A National toothbrush, Tents of the Arabic Desert
Somalia x Frankincense, Somali the Sub
Sudan x x Drink
Tunisia x x x x
UAE x x Population, Role of Women
Yemen x x x Architecture
Figure. 1. List of countries in Arab net12 and their categories for culture. Compare a Chinese network, which lists mass media, education, arts and sports under culture.
This seeming co-incidence becomes all the more noteworthy when we realize that the East has very different traditions. In India, Burma, Cambodia, Malaysia and much of South-East Asia, for instance, the greatest literary epics, namely, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, have a fundamental influence on the fine arts (painting, sculpture, drawing, illustration) and an even greater influence on the performance arts (puppets, theatre, opera, dance, folk songs, music).13 In short, the East14 does not have the same oppositions between fine art and performance arts which are found in the West.
In earlier centuries the English thought of culture as a “refinement of mind tastes and manners,” as the “intellectual side of civilisation,” while Matthew Arnold saw Culture as “the acquainting ourselves with the best that has been known and said in the world.”15 In the English language, culture is a more widely used concept than civilization. There is, for instance, a story that Dr. Johnson planned to drop the term civilisation from his dictionary. In German, by contrast there are great debates about the relative values of Kultur and Civilization. To complicate matters, most of what the Germans cover under the idea of Civilization,16 is covered by the English term culture. (Ergo English culture is not German Kultur).17
While English refers constantly to other cultures, the nineteenth century Victorians typically frequently assumed that the English tradition offered a model, which all others could try to imitate.18 In the field of history, for instance, this led to Deacon’s Synchronological Chart of Universal History19 (1890), drawn by Professor Edmund Hull, whose unbridled optimism, spurred partly by Archbishop Usher’s scheme for chronology, assumed knowledge of the precise day on which God created the earth, and surveyed all of culture and civilisation in a single chart some five meters long. While international, this chart is still very much from a Eurocentric and indeed from an Anglo-centric viewpoint.
Once we look to cultures around the world the predominance of the fine arts subsides and a much more complex picture emerges. In the National Museum in Taipei, for instance, there is a more recent attempt to draw parallels among all the major civilisations in both the East and the West on three walls of one of their large rooms, which is quite different from Professor Hull's model. A simple search through Arab net confirms that their four most basic concepts of culture are people, language, food (and drink), media and religion. Other categories include arts, artists, architecture, basketry, beekeeping, blown glass, calendar, ceramics, clothing, education, frankincense, population, pottery, role of women, tradition, and even foreign workers (figure 1).
For the purposes of this paper we approach culture in terms of shared experiences, which arise from a small number of different goals for culture and art. At the outset a clear distinction is needed between pre-literate and literate cultures. In pre-literate cultures two goals dominate: connecting and ordering.
In pre-literate times, a first stage of culture emerges as basic needs for survival lead to expressions that go beyond survival: food makes its first steps towards cuisine; utensils towards decorative arts and shelter towards architecture. Precisely because these earliest societies are pre-literate we can have no comprehensive picture of their cultural objects. Indeed our knowledge is limited to materials found in archaeological remains. At this level of culture there is an interesting paradox. On the one hand, these products of food, utensils and shelter serve to connect societies to the earth. On the other hand, as the society advances this connecting function becomes increasingly obscured, as the products of nature are increasingly changed into products of artifice.
Parallel with this linking to the earth (what we now call the profane) and often integrally linked therewith is another sort of connecting with things beyond the individual (what we now call the sacred) as defined by myths and customs, which take the forms of music, dance, song, language and later writing. As the Oxford English Dictionary reminds us, the term culture is etymologically linked with cult: with something that one worships.20
So called primitive art21 had a function of connecting a totem in a community with a magical or sacred world beyond it. This connecting function meant that a totem actually became a given deity rather than being a simple representative thereof. A sculpture suited this function much better than a painted representation. Because it served as a bridge between the everyday world of the tribe and a magical world beyond, it had to be sufficiently life-like to be recognizable by its viewers: i.e. anthropomorphism was an inherent part of the system. Yet a fully realistic statue would have linked it too firmly to the present world and thrown into jeopardy its connecting function with a world beyond: i.e. a restricted anthropomorphism was also built into the system. In such a context perspectival realism would have been more of a threat than a goal.
Since these tribal communities were pre-literate there were no canonical texts concerning the shape and meaning of the statue. And in the absence of these sacred texts to establish a sense of community, the sacred statues acquired proto-canonical functions themselves and forged this sense of community directly. Hence any serious deviation in outward appearance was a threat to its connecting function because it introduced the risk that a specific god would not even be recognized.
Connecting to Earth (Profane) Survival +
Drink Tea, Wine
Utensils Pottery, Metalware
Animism Myth, Legend Religion
Song Opera, Musicals
Figure 2. Aspects of the goal of connecting, which is one of the basic shared experiences in pre-literate society.
Since polytheism was the rule in pre-literate societies these principles usually extended to a number of gods. As the number of gods increased, the powers, which could be attributed to a given god decreased. Such considerations meant that there were natural controls to keep in check an indefinite extension of these sacred images. In this context the pantheon of images which would have been possible through perspective was necessarily a threat to be avoided rather than a goal to be sought. The connecting function thus precluded an interest in this-worldly, perspectival space, focussing attention instead on a totem, which would ensure contact with a world beyond.
A second goal, which emerged among primitive tribes involved ordering, producing patterns and ornament beginning with simple regular lines and evolving to ever more complex geometrical shapes. In pre-literate societies these patterns were usually restricted in number and had sacred connotations such that they shared partly in the connecting functions of totems. In some cases, these patterns were applied directly to the totems, such that, both the connecting and ordering functions were contained. A gradual distinction between the two functions was inevitable, however. For whereas the connecting function effectively depended on a pre-literate society, the ordering function did not. The advent of literacy simply extended its repertoire as Sir Ernst Gombrich has so eloquently shown in a Sense of Order.22
Some patterns could even be given spatial characteristics. The menander fret could, for instance, be given a three dimensional effect through a clever use of light and shade. Yet although some sense of depth was possible, systematic treatment of space was not. Hence ordering was another goal, which discouraged perspective in its full sense.
Ordering Basic Crafts (Luxury)
|Ph. D. in Mass Communications, S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University, 1999||International Institute for Sustainable Development|
|Netherlands Institute of International Relations||Institute of Finance and International Management, Bangalore|
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|Institute of Interdisciplinary Business Research~ iibr international Research Centre||Is Professor of International Relations at the European University Institute in Florence. He received his PhD from Cornell University in 1995, and has been|
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«geodiversity», International Association of Geomorphologists (iag), coordinated by Emmanuel Reynard (Institute of Geography, University...
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