Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 0. Nr. August 1997

Goals of Culture and Art

IIC (International Institute of Communications) Lecture, Kuala Lumpur, September 1999

© Kim H. Veltman (Maastricht)

1. Introduction   2. Culture beyond Art   3. European Goals of Culture   4. Threats to Culture
5. World Map of Culture
   6. New Meta-Data   7. Conclusions   Acknowledgements

1. Introduction   

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 net(4), 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 Heritage(8) 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.

© Kim H. Veltman (Maastricht)   

1. Introduction   2. Culture beyond Art   3. European Goals of Culture   4. Threats to Culture
5. World Map of Culture   6. New Meta-Data   7. Conclusions

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(1) Ideas of Culture: Sources and Uses, Edited by Frederick C. Gamst, Edward Norbeck, 1976. See also: Alfred Louis Kroeber, C. Kluckhohn, Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions, Cambridge, Mass., 1952; Alfred Louis Kroeber, A Roster of Civilizations and Culture, New York: Greenwood Press Reprint, 1962. (Subscriber's edition distributed through Current Anthropology for the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Inc.). Cf. Horst Reimann, Transkulturelle Kommunikation und Weltgesellschaft, Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1992. Dan Sperber, Explaining Culture: A Naturalistic Approach, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996. I am grateful to Dr Gerhard Budin (Vienna) for the above three references.
For an important survey of contemporary problems concerned with culture see the site of the Union Internationale des Associations at,
which has the following headings:
       Culture youth violence | (F)
       Cultures ; Disparagement indigenous | (E)
       Cultures ; Dying | (B)
       Cultures ; Endangered | (B)
       Cultures ; Homogenization | (B)
       Cultures ; Lack economic adaptation native | (E)
       Cultures ; Limited exposure | (F)
       Cultures ; Rapidly changing | (F)
       Cultures ; Rejection | (U)
       Cultures ; Temporal dissonance | (F)
       Cultures ; Unseemly nakedness tribal | (F)
       Cultures ; Untransferability books countries | (F).
For an example of how the corporate world has very different definitions of culture see the discussion of culture under enterprise risk management at: Cf. footnote 126 below. For an excellent introduction to some of the larger policy issues in involved in new media economics and media culture see the Economic and Social Research Council's site at: which has the following headings:
       I. The Future of Media Industries
       II. The Regulation of the Media
       III. The Media, Democracy and the Nation State
       IV. The Media and the Public
       V. Corporate Organisation and Media Output

(2) See

(3) See

(4) See I am grateful to Khalid J. Emara (Brussels) for this reference.

(5) A Persian cultural site even has a section on ZanAmu - Foreign Wives of Iranians
Some idea of the tremendous differences in approaching culture becomes evident from comparing a series of Internet sites reflecting different national cultures:


Chinese sites typically include medicine and philosophy as part of culture. There is also a site devoted specifically to an Agricultural Culture Collection of China:





(6) See

(7) MEDICI is an acronym for: Multimedia EDucation and employment through Integrated Cultural Initiatives. See:

(8) See

(9) See UNESCO also has a programme for a Culture of Peace:

(10) Many important bodies are now concerned with these aspects. This includes new organisations such as the Internet Society (particularly through its Internet Engineering Task Force or IETF), the World Wide Web Consortium (W3), led by the visionary Tim Berners Lee, who foresees the advent of a global reasoning web or semantic web and the Consortium for the Interchange of Museum Information (CIMI). It also includes groups within more traditional bodies such as the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) and sections of the International Committee on Museums (ICOM) particularly the Comité Internationale pour la Documentation de l'Art (CIDOC), i.e. International Committee on the Documentation of Art.

(11) Interoperability of content is being addressed at a number of levels. The European Commission has made the interchange of materials in museums, libraries and archives one of the leitmotifs of its Fifth Framework Programme. More specifically, interoperability of content is the foremost goal of a new European Network of Centres of Excellence in Digital Cultural Heritage, based at Maastricht, which is being developed in the context of the MEDICI Framework. See

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