'Art is not culture and culture is not art'

In laymen’s perspective art is construed as culture. It is not true semantically and academically.

ByDr S Birahari Singh

Updated 21 Sept 2020, 12:46 pm

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What the earth would look like in the absence of art! It is beyond our imagination. Arts have existed with us since time immemorial. We have talked about cave and rock paintings of primitive man. We are still talking about different art forms in our modern time too. This shows that art is concomitant with human beings throughout his journey of civilization. Art is inseparable from us and inevitable with us. Nevertheless, it is to be noted that “art is not culture and culture is not art”. One is not a synonym of the other.

Art is a natural behavior of man and it cannot be, therefore, dissociated from human civilization. Just like our mother tongue is a natural behavior of expressing ourselves, so is art. To express themselves, children draw something on the wall or on the floor when they are young. Without anybody’s insistence they involve in make-believe play to express their feelings.

Art is a medium for communication. There are different types of language. We cannot, generally, understand every language except our mother tongue. However, art is a universal form of communication. Everyone can understand it. It is not an exaggeration. Through the medium of art, we can share our ideas and thought with other people. “Art rises above language, class, religion, gender, and other factors that seem to divide the world. Art brings people together. It elicits different reactions and emotions but everyone can agree that it moves them to think, to feel, and to act. Art is there to remind us of the values we uphold”. writes.

Art speaks about culture and society. It is universally accepted that cave and rock paintings of primitive people give us some ideas about their culture. A society’s beliefs, cultural values, etc. are expressed with them. From prehistoric cave paintings to modern day films, art serves as a vessel for storytelling and conveying humankind’s relationship with the environment. In a sense, it can preserve culture.

Nowadays art attracts tourists. It is possible to develop a strong sense of community belonging with the help of art. It can bridge the gap between different cultures.


Debates about definition of art have been going on among philosophers for centuries. However, in the modern world its definition has been categorized into three: Art as Representation; Art as Mimesis; Art as Expression of emotional content; and Art as Form.

The United States Congress, in the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act, defined “the arts” as follows: The term “the arts” includes, but is not limited to, music (instrumental and vocal), dance, drama, folk art, creative writing, architecture and allied fields, painting, sculpture, photography, graphic and craft arts, industrial design, costume and fashion design, motion pictures, television, radio, film, video, tape and sound recording, the arts related to the presentation, performance, execution, and exhibition of such major art forms, all those traditional arts practiced by the diverse peoples of this country.(sic) and the study and application of the arts to the human environment.

Any form of expression of human creativity, crude or sophisticated may be considered as art. It grows with human civilization. It is generally agreed that art is some volitional meaningful or beautiful creation of man using human skill and imagination. Painting, architecture sculpture, literature, music, performing art and cinema are seven art forms given by Wikipedia. Again has given nine art forms viz architecture, sculpture, painting, dance, music, poetry, cinema, television and comic strip.

A British anthropologist, Sir Edward Burnett Tylor wrote, “Culture… that complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, law, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”. In close examination of this most comprehensive and accepted definition of culture it is known that culture encompasses arts.

The above proposition – “Art is not culture and culture is not art” is quite clear. In laymen’s perspective art is construed as culture. It is not true semantically and academically. It can be unequivocally asserted that product of art or art product is the outgrowth of interplay between ideological and behavioural cultures of man. A good novel, for example, belongs to material culture of man. This is an art product, outgrowth of interplay between ideological and behavioural cultures of man.

In Sandy Fitzgerald writes- “Art is one of the aspects of culture. It is a very defined approach to making objects or making concepts. It is defined as a physical thing that we create be it a painting or a movie or whatever. So, it is almost like creating. It is a craft or a skill by which we create an object. And that object can be conceptual as well as physical. But is very definite. It is very defined activity and it is a very defined product that you have in art. Whereas the culture is everything what we are surrounded by”.


In another sense, art is the skill and its product which is manifested through activities and with activities. Arts, therefore, fall under behavioural and material categories of culture. Human activities are also called behaviours in Psychology. In building Taj Mahal, the product of art collective skills of a number of architects, masons and workers are manifested with their activities through their activities. The product of interplay between ideological and behavioural cultures of men of the time become, ultimately, an object of material culture admired all the time.

It can be asserted that culture includes metaphysical, epistemological, logical, ethical, anthropological, political and aesthetic things of man and his society. Art is concerned only with aesthetics of man and his society. It has seven elements viz. line, shape, texture, form, space, colour and value. Culture is so complex that things encompassed by it are categorized into-Ideological, Behavioural and Material for convenience of study.

Lastly, it can be concluded that the relation between the two is similar to part and whole relationship.

Rich arts enhance the quality of culture and vice versa. This article is written only for conceptual clarity.

(The views expressed are personal)


First published:


cultureart in Manipur

Dr S Birahari Singh

Dr S Birahari Singh

Associate Professor, Department of Education, YK College


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