Chapter 7: You Are Cultured
The way we see, think, and feel is largely determined by where we live and when we live.
In the previous two chapters we have considered how semantic knowledge and personal expe-
riences influence our understanding of art. These aspects of knowledge are colored by the styles
and preferences that characterize us as a member of a culture, be it national, religious, political,
or a more narrowly defined group (e.g., art culture, counterculture). Here we use the term “cul-
ture” rather loosely and designate it as any group sharing the same attitudes, beliefs, or practices.
Thus, no one is an island because we are all influenced by some group membership. We all have
religious beliefs, political biases, and a national affiliation. With respect to experiencing art, cul-
ture determines how we conceptualize artworks, and as such it influences our perceptual and
emotional responses to them.
A Matter of Style
Over time and geography, styles in art change and evolve. Consider ancient Greek and
Roman statues. These remarkable
pillars of Western art have been ad-
mired for their exquisite rendering of
the human form. Renaissance artists
used these ancient forms as models
for their own works, such Michelan-
. Yet as early as the 19
century, archeologists have unco-
vered statutes on which traces of
color can be found. With the advan-
tage of ultraviolet light and chemical
analyses, contemporary archeolo-
gists, such as Vinzenz Brinkmann,
have shown how these statutes ac-
tually appeared in ancient times. As
Figure 7.1 illustrates, these garishly
colored statues look comical to the 21
Century beholder accustomed to the pure-white marble
relics seen in museums and art books.
When it is Art?
Artistic styles change over time, even across rather short intervals. Consider the advent of
rock and roll music, which over a few years revolutionized the form and content of popular mu-
sic. Stylistic changes are often catalyzed by technological advances, such as the introduction of
the electric guitar in music or photography in art. Other times, a thought or idea germinates in a
small group of individuals and grows into a movement that alters the entire cultural landscape.
Impressionism is an example of such a movement. The evolution of modern art during the 20
century is marked by a progression of stylistic changes that has altered the very concept and
practice of art. Changes in artistic styles led the philosopher, Nelson Goodman, to redirect the
question of “What is Art?” to “When is Art” (Goodman, 1978). That is, an object, such as a urin-
al or even Manet’s
(Figure 1.x), may be considered art at one time and not-art at another.
Across time, cultural forces change the way we evaluate and experience artworks.