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

Goals of Culture and Art

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

5. World Map of Culture

Needed is a new kind of world chart of cultural values and expressions which is not limited to the taste of an isolated scholar, the fashion of a particular school, of some nation or even to a single continent such as Europe, North America, or Asia. In a world where multi-national corporations have made a global economy part of everyday life, where Internet is linking hundreds of millions of persons daily, we need a more comprehensive vision of world culture whereby we can understand the richness and complexity of culture around the world. Such a world map of culture will entail both the material history and a history of meaning of objects and thus require a far greater degree of contextualisation than has hitherto been considered necessary or even possible.


Material History(163)

At present, leading institutions such as the National Gallery of England are developing an integrated system whereby information concerning accession of individual paintings is linked with materials in the main catalogue, exhibition catalogues and research which typically appears in the gallery's technical bulletins, and specialized publications. This approach should be used in all museums and galleries and also extended into a new concept of collections management. We need a systematic approach to the pointers to knowledge concerning objects as in reference rooms,(164) the objects themselves, and the interpretations thereof. We need access not only to the images of a painting or object, but also all restorations thereof: i.e. a history of all the interventions that have been made over the centuries (figure 7).(165)

Pointers 1. Terms (Classification Systems)
  2. Definitions (Dictionaries)
  3. Explanations (Encyclopaedias)
  4. Titles (Bibliographies)
  5. Partial Contents (Abstracts, Indexes)
Objects 6. Full Contents (Paintings, Instruments, Books etc.)
Interpretations 7. Internal  
  8. External  
  9. Restorations  
  10. Reconstructions  
Figure 7. Basic domains and levels of knowledge.

To see a painting in a gallery or an object in a museum is to see it out of context. Ideally we should know about the original environment for which the painting or object was made. Since this original environment has almost invariably been altered, (else the painting would still be in its original location), we need reconstructions(166) of that original environment. Ideally we should also have information about the interim institutions where the painting resided, including the various places where it has hung within the present institution. This amounts to an extension of the excellent approach introduced in the Getty Trust's Provenance Index, with the major difference that this new collections management will allow potential tourists, visitors and researchers to see images of the environments as well as verbal descriptions. Finally the system will provide access not only to the museum's internal publications concerning the painting but also to all the literature available in libraries and archives (figure 8).

1. Object
2. Original Environment (Church, Palace, Archaeological Site)
3. Reconstruction of Original Environment (Ruined Temple, Church)
4. Interim Institutions (Earlier Collections)
5. Present Institution (Museum, Gallery)
6. Information Concerning (Library, Archive)
Figure 8. Six elements qua reconstruction in the contextualisation of a cultural object.

Concrete examples in the direction of such an integrated approach to contextualisation already exist. For instance, the Nu.M.E. (Nuovo Museo Elettronico della città di Bologna) project at the University of Bologna(167) is reconstructing not only individual buildings but the entire mediaeval city of Bologna with a temporal dimension such that one can witness the city's history as if one were in a time machine. One can see how the thirteenth century version changes during the Renaissance, and through the centuries until one arrives at the modern city. One can go from a painting or illuminated manuscript image of what the town looked like at a particular time. These show that there once existed a monument, which was later removed because it blocked traffic. One can go to a reconstruction of this monument and then trace how individual pieces of thereof are now scattered in the Cathedral of San Petronio, and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

The amount of information available concerning an environment varies enormously. The city of Bologna is extremely fortunate to have wonderful archives which document the last eight hundred years in enormous detail. Other cities have been ravaged by great fires, war, revolution and the like. Similarly the amount of information available about a given painting or museum object varies enormously. Leonardo's Mona Lisa and Van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece have hundreds of publications. Other paintings have never been seriously studied.

Ultimately this new approach will lead to much more than a tourist guide par excellence: a Baedeker or Michelin of the twenty-first century. This contextualisation will allow us to study the image histories of a given painting or object, all the copies, versions, variants, by the painter, by their students, in their workshop, in the school of etc. Ideally it will allow us to trace other locations of paintings by a given artist, to trace paintings by theme or subject and even to trace these across the whole spectrum of different media (cf. figure 10). As such the traditional printed catalogue raisonnée will be replaced by an online version accessible through wireless connections accessible not only in museums but at any place and anytime.(168) To achieve this will require the development of new meta-data.(169)

These new methods will not replace the experience of the real thing, except in the case of special sites such as the Caves at Lascaux or the Tomb of Nefertari which are closed to the public anyway for conservation reasons. Rather, the new approach will offer complementary experiences to those of the past. Standing on the hill at Pergamon one will be able to see the Pergamon Altar in the Bode Museum in Berlin. Conversely, standing in front of the altar in Berlin one will be able to see the archaeological site from which it was taken.

In addition, this systematic approach will offer us insights into the history of taste and study. We shall have art historical equivalents of reception theory in literature. We shall be able to trace what major themes preoccupied a given period, a country, a region or more specifically a specific group. We shall have virtual museums, which show us the different spaces and contexts in which a famous work of art was placed in the course of the centuries. Such patterns will also take us into the history of meaning concerning the works of art in question (i.e. items 7-10 in figure 4) and as such provide new ways of understanding the history of taste. If, for instance, I accept the criteria for art from Paris in the 1770s, which paintings in my repertoire would come to the fore?


Meaning History(170)

While the material history of objects will provide all records concerning physical aspects of objects, the history of an object's meaning will trace what it has signified over the ages. This requires an understanding of the goals, purposes and intentions, which led to a given cultural object. Two such goals with their origins in pre-literate societies have already been mentioned, namely, connecting and ordering. With respect to literate societies in Europe we have discussed four further goals: imitating, matching, mixing and exploring.

Here we have built on the enduring contributions of Sir Ernst Gombrich, who has demonstrated that the history of art (which for him includes painting, drawing, sculpture etc) cannot be seen as a single, simple line of development and must be studied as a series of parallel and even conflicting goals. He has shown, for instance that the magical function of so called primitive art (which we term connecting), must be separated from that of ornament (which we term ordering), and mimesis.

We have combined this approach of different goals of art with different levels of literacy, suggesting that these introduce different levels of abstraction through aesthetic distance (figure 4), allowing us to make further distinctions between these goals of representation, which are also useful in understanding why perspective occurred when and where it did. Indeed of the six basic functions which were considered (connecting, ordering, imitating, matching, mixing, exploring) we have shown how three precluded, one discouraged and two functions encouraged the use of perspective, and then only under special circumstances.

While this paper has focussed on examples from the European tradition, the attentive reader will note that the goals and categories of the approach lend themselves to a treatment of world culture. In all this our aim has been to avoid the dangers of simplistic cultural imperialism, offering an approach that opens new ways for comparative cultural studies.(171)


Connecting and Imitating

The relative importance of these different goals will vary in accordance with the cultures involved. In contemporary society, for instance, connecting applies particularly to some South American countries, some African countries and aboriginals in Australia. Ordering applies more to Islamic countries. Certain kinds of imitating apply more to China and so on.

The forms of expression these goals acquire also varies. Hence in some cultures the totems are mainly statues, which we would associate with sculpture. In Ladakh, by contrast, the images of the deities take the form of elaborate masks and costumes which are born by live "actors" in the course of religious festivals.(172) In Ladakh, one also finds very remarkable interplays between what Frazer would have characterized as the magical phase (of totemism and animism) and a religious phase (with a complex pantheon of gods). Their particular strand of the Buddhist tradition involves a long literary tradition with very complex religious symbolism whereby different elements, physical states, symbols, and colours are correlated with different emanations of the Buddha.(173) Such examples remind us that the "evolution" from a naïve or primitive connecting wherein the participants assume that the totem is the god, to more subtle distinctions, whereby the participants make connections between the concrete figures they see and the abstract powers in which they believe vary from one culture to another. One of the major challenges of a world map of culture(s) will be to determine how the different stages of abstraction and aesthetic distance outlined in figure 4 with respect to Europe obtain elsewhere in the world.

With respect to pre-literate societies, we need to trace the history, interpretations and associations of objects relating to basic needs as well as rituals and expressions as they relate to magic, myth, cult, and religion (connecting as in figure 2). For instance in the case of a basic need such as drink(ing), one would begin with a list of drinks such as tea, which would lead to varieties of tea (Ceylonese, Indian, Chinese, etc.) and lead to cultural expressions such as the Japanese tea ceremony or the English high tea.

In the case of mythology and primitive religions, one would begin with an object or force in nature such as the sun or thunder and then trace its different cultural expressions: how, for instance, the sun is Amon Ra in Egypt, Apollo in Greece, etc. how these fit into their respective pantheons and how their symbolism is expressed both in custom (in the tradition of Sir James George Frazer), performance (music, dance, song, theatre) and the fine arts (fresco, sculpture, etc.). Here one would wish to trace how one reported or recorded source served as a recipe for multiple versions(174), forms, and expressions. Where possible one would trace how some basic myths of local cults subsequently evolve into (major)(175) religions. Here the methods of art history will become closely intertwined with those of ethnology, anthropology and sociology. To be studied is whether our suggestion about the role of art in creating aesthetic distance is confirmed by the sources.

With respect to the major religions such as Christianity one would begin with lists of the individuals therein, namely, Christ, the Virgin Mary, the Apostles and the saints. In the case of Christ one would have access to the major texts (notably the New Testament) plus a list of key episodes in his life, including: Birth, Flight into Egypt, Circumcision, Preaching in Temple, Baptism, Walking on Water, Miracle of the Fishes, Marriage of Cana, Raising of Lazarus, Last Supper, Flagellation, Crucifixion, Deposition, Resurrection, (Dinner at) Emmaus, Ascension, and Last Judgement.




Texts, Commentaries


Texts, Commentaries, Cultural Objects


Texts, Commentaries, Cultural Objects, Performances


Texts, Commentaries, Cultural Objects, Performances, New Media
Figure 9. Five combinations of cultural products resulting from shared experiences.

In the past the history of art and cultural history often focussed on cultural objects as isolated phenomena. Using the approach to culture as shared experience, a new history needs to be written which begins with a given verbal expression (text) and then traces both its verbal and its various visual expressions.(176) With respect to verbal expressions this will include texts and commentaries. With respect to visual expressions this will include cultural objects (paintings, drawings, engravings, sculpture etc.), as well as performances (opera, ballet, music, theatre) and new media (interactive television, electronic art, etc.) (figure 6).

A systematic treatment of these sources will allow us to correlate the numbers of episodes in the life of Christ with various media (mosaic, fresco, inlaid wood) and trace how these vary in number and significance in different places and in the course of different periods (figure 10). From this it would become evident that even in the case of countries with the same Christian heritage, their treatment of a theme such as the life of Christ varies considerably. Switzerland, for instance, has a surprising number of detailed cycles of the life of Christ in mediaeval churches, which have been largely forgotten in standard histories of art.(177)

Place Medium





Walls Mosaic, Fresco

Chapels Fresco

Ceilings Fresco

Choirs Inlaid Wood

Altars Oil on Canvas



Predellas Fresco, Tempura

Paintings Oil on Canvas

Reliefs Sculpture

Manuscripts Painting





Books Woodcut





Engravings Ink on Paper




Gardens Earth, Plants




Figure 10. Some of the different media in pictorial narrative cycles (in perspective) favoured in Italy, Burgundy, France, Netherlands, and Germany.

Such a systematic approach will become the more significant when it can also become comparative, namely, when we can compare cycles of the Life of Christ with cycles of the lives of the Apostles and the lives of the Saints, such that we can trace how one country gives more attention to Christ and/or his Apostles (the beginnings of Christianity), while others devote more attention to the various saints (the later history of Christianity).

This approach can readily be extended to the Far East with respect to Buddha. How do cycles of the Life of Buddha in India differ from those in China, Japan, Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand? How do these vary in different media? Are there parallels between the developments in these cycles in the East and those of the West or do they follow completely different trends? These are kinds of questions, which we cannot begin to answer at the moment because we do not have a sufficiently comprehensive survey of the material. Such new comprehensive surveys are one of the important potential contributions of digital culture. Thus the new electronic media will allow us to ask new questions about hitherto disparate materials and lead to more comprehensive understanding of hitherto invisible patterns of cultural expression.

That which applies to Christ and the Buddha can be applied to all the other protagonists in the world's great religious and literary texts. Indeed, since all advanced cultures have great literature this principle is equally applicable to the other great cultures of the world (cf. figure 11).

Fine Arts (Static)

Performance (Dynamic)



















    Buddhist Texts  






Israel etc. Bible







Greece Iliad(179)




Rome Odyssey(180)




China 3 Kingdoms(181)  



Japan Tale of Genji  


Italy Commedia(182)  





Figure 11. Advanced culture: when a major text, religious or secular, becomes the basis for expressions in other media. Note how these media tend to be static in the West (fine arts) and dynamic (performance arts) in the East.

This will lead to a new kind of comparative cultural history, with a number of novel questions. How does the number of key episodes in the Life of Christ and Buddha compare with those in the Life of Lao Tse, Confucius and other religious leaders? How do the key episodes in mythological series, religious series and literary epics compare? In such domains the questions of art history will link with those of comparative literature as well as comparative religion. Why do some cultures prefer expressions in the fine arts whereas others prefer those in the performing arts? Are these preferences linked with the degree and type of literacy (i.e. manuscripts vs. printed communication)?

A comprehensive map of culture will need to distinguish between at least seven different levels ranging from local to international (figure 12). Cities with long histories such as Beijing or Cairo have their own local culture through experiences shared only within that city. Peoples in regions, often in the form of provinces, such as the Basques in Catalonia or the Quebecois in Canada, have their own cultural expressions through shared experiences in a language that separates them from other parts of the country in which they live. National cultures will vary greatly depending whether they have evolved over the centuries as in the case of Scotland, or whether they entail very recent nations which may not reflect the boundaries of a given tribe or people (as in parts of Africa or the former Yugoslavia). Very large countries such as Canada and Russia entail multicultural dimensions, which are a class unto themselves.(184) At the international level, major religions form the most common context for shared experiences.

1.Urban Cities with Awareness (Beijing, Cairo, Istanbul, London, Paris)
2. Regional Provinces,Sections in Countries (Basque, Limburg)
3. National Traditional Countries (Scotland, France)
4. National Recent Countries (especially Africa)
5. Multicultural Large Countries and Units (Canada, Russia, United States, Europe)
6. International Major Literature, Art (Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Leonardo)
7. International Major Religions (Buddhism, Hebraism, Christianity, Islam)
Figure 12. Seven levels of culture.

Finally, there is a corpus of world cultural heritage of major literature, art and other expressions, to which UNESCO is drawing our attention, which belongs to us all. These include natural wonders such as Ayers Rock in Australia, the Victoria Waterfalls in Africa, and Mount Everest in Nepal. It is this list on which we must build: of things we have in common, of experiences all humans can share, not only as tourists, but also as part of our collective imagination. For these can serve as bridges between the different levels and forms of culture in helping us arrive at a new map of culture, which allows us to see larger patterns in the expressions within the global village.

In the past it was generally assumed that culture was something monolithic. This arose largely from the assumption that one's culture defines one's person and one's being. A key insight which needs to be learned is that one and the same person can potentially operate in terms of all these different levels of culture without any necessary contradiction. I can participate in the local culture of more than one city (e.g. Toronto, London, Maastricht), be proud of my regional roots (e.g. Frisia), follow a particular religion (e.g. Christianity), participate in national cultures (e.g. Canada, Netherlands) and still be very enthusiastic about aspects of international culture. In the past such awareness was open only to a handful of international diplomats and merchants. In the future more and more of us need to learn these multiple dimensions of awareness. For therein lies a key to future tolerance.

Unfortunately our political structures are not yet aligned with these needs. In traditional political structures, culture was typically at the state (or provincial) or the national level. In Germany, for example, culture was at the state level (Hoheit der Länder) which made it very difficult for the national government to encourage international co-ordination. Other countries such as France(185), where culture is very much a national matter, frequently attempted international links after too little consultation with provincial bodies. Needed are new levels of co-ordination whereby it is recognized that efforts at the urban (local), regional and national levels need to be integrated with multicultural structures such as the European Union and international efforts at the level of UNESCO. If we are to have global citizens we need political structures to integrate various levels of their activities.



As indicated earlier the relative importance of the goals will vary in different cultures. In early Greek art, for instance, ordering seems to have played a greater role than in the later periods when imitating (mimesis) became a dominant goal. One of the fascinating histories to follow is how a particular motif such as the menander fret which has a purely ornamental role of ordering within the Greek tradition, is taken up within the Christian tradition where its ordering function serves to frame and separate elements in religious cycles of the Life of Christ (e.g. the Reichenau) and thus linked with the goals of imitating. In a similar way the same motif becomes linked with the goal of matching during the Renaissance. Hence in addition to the individual histories of the goals, there is a further history of increasing interplay between the goals.

Given the iconoclastic strain within Islam, it is not surprising that the goal of ordering acquired special significance within that tradition. In some cases there are clear parallels between the patterns of Greco-Roman art and those of the Islamic tradition. We know also that the Arabic geometrical patterns which were developed at Granada served as a direct inspiration to Western artists such as Maurits Escher. Given the high regularity of these patterns this is a domain where pattern recognition techniques being developed in products such as IBM's Query By Image Content (QBIC) could reasonably be combined with agent technologies in order to make first steps towards an automatic "history" of dissemination and influence in the realm of ornamental forms which we class as ordering. In the longer term, of course, we need not just the isolated pattern, but also its context, especially in the case of complex architectural sites such as Isfahan.



We have indicated briefly how, in the Western tradition, art played a role in establishing a greater aesthetic distance with respect to the physical world. Precisely how this happened differed greatly in different parts of Europe and yet here again there were larger trends. The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, for instance, saw a particular interest in visualising proverbs and sayings in the form of emblems and imprese. These sometimes involved visual puns. While very widespread the use of emblems was largely a fashion at court, something which adorned one's hats and clothes, about which one published manuals and yet not something which had a fundamental impact on high art. Emblems thus remained a specialised and slightly obscurantist chapter in the history of symbolism.

By contrast, within the Chinese tradition there was a particular fascination in the way one could take a sound for one word and visualize its homonym in order to create visual puns. Thus the word for happiness was represented visually by its homonym as a bat. The word for 10,000 had as its homonym the swastika. Hence a bat with a swastika signified: May you have happiness ten thousandfold. What makes this practice special in China, however, is that it permeates the whole of their society. For instance, once one recognizes the bat symbolism one finds it everywhere, including the five bats which are likely to adorn the rice bowl in one's local Chinese restaurant. Such visual puns become linked with the ordering principle such that one finds ornamental bat patterns, abstract versions of which make their way back to the West in the form of handles on chests of drawers.



Within the goal of matching there is another untold history, which requires much more study. In the West, there has been a general assumption that the great work of art is unique. Thus Leonardo's Mona Lisa in the Louvre is a "proper" subject of art history because it is "high art." Meanwhile, the hundreds of copies, variants and versions of Mona Lisa, were deemed to be "low art" and therefore were not considered as being within the purview of official art history. Only gradually are we becoming aware that it was precisely because of these copious copies and versions in low art that the masterpieces of high art were able to reach their status as icons of culture. In short, without thorough knowledge of copies and versions there can be no deeper understanding of why certain paintings and sculptures have become so central to our cultural heritage.

Again, one of the important differences within the Chinese tradition is that copies and versions play a far greater role within this cultural tradition. Hence, whereas the West has increasingly praised the copying of Nature above the copying of art, the Chinese tradition has long fostered a copy of art, of an exemplar as being equally and sometimes more worthy than a quest for uniqueness. Nor is this attitude limited to China. It pervades much of art and culture in the Far East. Countries where change is not a goal or an ideal clearly need to be studied along different lines than those where change is the dominant theme.

At present Westerners make many generalizations about the East most of which are based on ignorance. It is typically claimed, for instance, that the East developed no serious commitment to scientific drawing, which reflected the natural world in a reliable form. A wonderful Tibetan manuscript, recently published by Professor Parfionovich and colleagues, provides very dramatic evidence to the contrary, with thousands of painstaking drawings of plants, minerals and other items relating to medicine, namely, a Tibetan book of medicine.(186)

As mentioned earlier (cf. also figure 11 above), yet another characteristic of the Far East is a far greater emphasis on the performance arts as a means of expressing religious and cultural traditions. Such aspects also exist in the West, if one thinks of the mediaeval mystery plays, which are still continued in the cycles in towns such as York and Obergammau. Even so, partly as a reflection of limited bandwidth, Western websites of cultural heritage are very markedly focussed on the static aspects of that tradition with thumbnails of paintings and sculptures. In future we need to use multimedia to reflect adequately the enormous richness of these performance dimensions of culture particularly in the East. Here the pioneering work of Ranjit Makkuni offers an example of what lies ahead.(187)



Thus far histories of art/culture have focussed on influences within the West, for example, how Byzantine art influenced mediaeval art, how themes of the Greco-Roman tradition were taken up anew in the Renaissance -- which became a leitmotif of Aby Warburg's institute. To be sure the importance of Alexander the Great in spreading Hellenistic art to the Far East such that the Greek god Apollo unwittingly became a model for versions of the Buddha. Carl Gustav Jung's fascination with archetypes led to a remarkable collection of 50,000 images now in the Warburg Institute in London.

The question of cultural influence needs to be studied at a global scale. Most persons in the West know of the vast scale of Versailles -- which led to literal imitations at Salzdahlum in Lower Saxony and imaginative variants in the form of Schönbrunn (Vienna). Yet few are aware that the idea of working on such a vast scale resulted from visits to Pagan (Burma) and Angkor Wat (Thailand) by ambassadors of Louis XIV. These two cities of the East, the largest planned cities in human history, were thus an inspiration behind one of the most famous monuments of the West.

It is generally acknowledged that Dutch culture had a great impact on Japan. In the seventeenth century, Dutch trade brought Delft blue ceramics to Japan. In the eighteenth century the same channels appear to have introduced linear perspective to Japan. But then in the nineteenth century Japanese art, in turn, had a great impact on the European Impressionists as did the so-called primitive art of Africa in the early twentieth century. Such examples are generally acknowledged but there is much more to be done.

If one goes to the major galleries of the former colonial countries one discovers that there is an untold history which begins with simple importation and leads to something very different. Landscape offers an excellent example. In Sydney, for instance, one can trace how the early artists merely imported the landscape traditions of England and Scotland. Indeed, early paintings of Australia, could well be mistaken for views of the Lake District or some other feature of the English countryside. Only gradually does the art reflect the uniqueness of the Australian landscape. A similar story can be told for Canada, South Africa and other colonies. That which applies to landscape applies equally to other cultural expressions. If one thinks of the Portuguese and Spanish colonies in South America, one could write a similar history in terms of religious architecture. A similar story could be told regarding the literature of these countries.


Low and High Culture

In this paper we have deliberately focussed on high culture for a simple reason. High culture, with its clear links to a written and usually published corpus, is more reliable in guaranteeing both the continuity and cumulative growth of shared experiences which we claim are central to all advanced forms of culture and civilization.

Nonetheless, we have acknowledged the need to study the interplay between so-called high and low culture. The rise of anthropology, ethnography, sociology and more recently, semiotics, have made us ever more aware that popular culture in the form of festivals, parades, processions, be they religious (Easter Week in Spain), nationalistic (the St Patrick's Day parade), linked with sports (the Orange Bowl football parade), steeped in history (the Palio in Siena and other Italian cities) or secular (Santa Claus parade), offer us many insights into culture.

For our purposes two anecdotal examples will suffice. In San Gimignano there is a long-standing tradition of processions with floats in Lent during the weeks prior to Easter. In 1991 during the Gulf War there were floats with a caricature of Saddam Hussein whose official links with the New Testament and Christianity are minimal. In Maastricht there are also annual processions with floats on the occasion of Carnival week. In 1999 there was a float dedicated to hippies and free love in a culture where this would at best be seen as a curiosity rather than as a directive for a life style.

Needed clearly is an inventory and study of how these shared experiences, ranging from Mardi Gras and Carnival to the major sport events contribute to different levels of shared cultural experience. In the case of the Carnival at Venice or the Palio in Siena these events are closely linked with the culture of a special city. In the case of Olympic games, in theory, there are reflections of world culture as well as the particular emphasis provided by the host country. In a world where some of these events are being broadcast globally, we need a global picture of such phenomena.


Culture as Diversity of Media

If we stand back for a moment, the quest for a world chart of culture can lead us to new insights concerning cultural complexity and richness. If culture relates to shared experience then it follows that language, magic, religion are obvious starting points for all cultures. As long as these expressions remain oral, they are limited to a relatively small area dominated by a given tribe or group. In other words, oral cultures tend to remain primitive because they are not set down and "fixed" by the written word and as such they are not readily transmitted over large distances except in cases where a very forceful leader, usually a dictator such as a Tamerlane, has imposed a view over a large geographical area.

Cultures which are written, which have a written text as their basis, be this the Bible or the Koran (the followers of Islam are known as the people of the book), mark a next stage in this evolution, for now the ideas can spread to far off places, frequently in the absence of violent dictatorial force.

Anthropologists such as Goody(188) have shown that a written text "fixes" the text and establishes a certain uniformity in the heritage that persons share. As we have noted earlier, however, in our analysis of Christian frescoes, it is precisely this fixing, in the sense of pinning down the text which makes it more widely known and these best known stories, in turn, are paradoxically, those which become the most widely used. Everyone knows the Last Supper, so the Last Supper becomes one of the central themes of Christian art and culture (cf. figure 15). Similarly in Persia everyone knows the stories of Majnun and in India everyone knows the stories of Arjuna and so it is these stories which become central to cultural expression.

In a primitive culture a totem is typically limited to one medium, such as stone or wood. Multiple media would impinge on the efficacy or even the validity of the totem. In advanced cultures this criterion is reversed. A given theme is important precisely because it inspires copies, versions, variants and even caricatures in as many media as possible. The Last Supper is great because there are full size fresco copies of it, wooden models of it, plastic toy versions of it and even Hollywood spoofs of it. Similarly Mona Lisa is great partly because it inspires every imaginable variation from careful copies, to caricatures of all kinds and even towels and pillow cushions. Expressions in multiple media thus become an empirical way of approaching highly developed cultures. The more expressions of a shared theme or topic, the higher the culture. In this model China and India emerge as important in their own right as high culture, even though as we have seen, expressions may occur in different media: one emphasizing examples in performance arts, another emphasizing examples in the fine arts.

A fourth dimension of culture relates to degrees of technical reproduction, a phenomenon to which Walter Benjamin drew attention in his now classic essay: The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit (1936).(189) This is a dimension where the advent of digital (versions of) culture through the Internet is bringing great changes, because works which were once spread through limited editions can now potentially give access at an international level. For the moment, due to the preponderance of technical reproduction in the West, Western culture often seems more dominant than it deserves to be. But as we have seen (p. 40 above) this trend is changing rapidly.

Thus the map of world culture would have at least four layers with inventories or catalogues of: 1) shared oral beliefs, ideas, stories, pantheons, cosmologies linking persons in a given tribe, group, or cultural entity -- which may have been recorded in writing by persons external to that group; 2) key stories which have been recorded in written form by the members of a cultural community (cf. figure 11 above); 3) all the artistic media which have been used to express those stories and 4) all the technical reproduction media which have been used to make accessible these artistic expressions (cf. figure 15).

© 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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(163) Cf. George Kubler, The Shape of Time. Remarks on the History of Things, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962

(164) To this end the Maastricht McLuhan Institute has submitted a proposal for project in their a 5th Framework Programme on Virtual Reference Rooms (VERO).
In the longer term we need new ways to visualise the kind of organisation of knowledge reflected in the library of the Warburg Institute in London.

Fourth Floor Practice History
Third Floor Theory Philosophy, Science
Second Floor Visual Expression Art
First Floor Verbal Expression Literature
Ground Floor Reference Dictionaries, Catalogues

Figure. Scheme of the organisation of books at the Warburg Institute in London.

(165) Cf. the author's: "A Databank on Perspective: The Concept of Knowledge Packages", Metodologia della ricerca: orientamenti attuali. Congresso internazionale in onore di Eugenio Battisti, Milan, 1991, Arte Lombarda, Milan, 1994, n. 3-4, parte seconda, pp. 166-170.

(166) Reconstructions in the plural because there will almost invariably be different and even conflicting interpretations concerning this.

(167) Medieval Metropolisis. Metropoli medievali. Proceedings of the Congress of Atlas Working Group, International Commission for the History of Towns, ed.Francesca Bocchi, Bologna: Grafis, 1998. (Attraverso le città italiane, 6).

(168) Important in this context is the new JINI/HAVI (Home Audio-Visual Information environment) consortium of SUN/Philips, Sony, Hitachi and other consumer electronics giants. In 2002 with the advent of UMTS (Universal Multimedia Telecommunications Services) such wireless technologies will be available anywhere, anytime through satellite up/down-links.

(169) It is intended that his topic, which was touched upon the author's recent opening keynote at the terminology and Knowledge Engineering Conference (TKE99, Innsbruck), will be the subject of a paper for WWW9 in 2000 (Amsterdam).

(170) The whole question of the interpretation of art and culture is an enormously complex field, the details of which are beyond the scope of this paper. The reader who is seriously interested in this theme is referred to the following text for an introduction to some of the deeper problems: Ikonographie und Ikonologie, ed. Ekkehard Kaemmering, Cologne: Dumont Taschenbücher, 1979, (Bildende Kunst als Zeichensystem, 1)..

(171) A first outline of this approach was given in the author's: "A New Classification for Art," Die Klassifikation und ihr Umfeld. Proceedings 10. Jahrestagung der Gesellschaft für Klassification eV, eds. P. O. Degens et al., (Frankfurt: Indeks Verlag, 1986), pp.77-84, (Studien sur Klassifikation, Bd. 17).

(172) Annaliese and Peter Keilhauer, Ladakh and Zanskar. Lamaistische Klosterkultur im Land Zwischen Indien und Tibet, Cologne: DuMont Buchverlag, 1981. Particularly interesting in this context is their discussion of the Padmasambhava Feast in the Monastery of Hemis.

(173) The original Buddha (Adibuddha) has five emanations as Vairocana, Akshobhya, Patmasambhava, Amitabha and Amoghasiddhi. See Keilhauer as in note above.

(174) Because they are based on an oral tradition the myths of the connecting goal are typically dynamic models which change with each version and with each generation. By contrast, the ordering function, because it is typically based on a fixed model, is closer to the static model associated with print culture, whereby one model has multiple applications in different media, at different scales.

(175) In all likelihood these two phases, basic needs and myths evolved in tandem. In the absence of clear documentation we cannot, however, be very certain about precise conditions in pre- historical times.

(176) Potentially this process could be expanded to include acoustic, tactile and olfactory expressions. Note, however, that such expressions cannot be compared in common by two or more persons in the way that is possible with visual and verbal expressions. Cf. William M. Ivins Jr., Prints and Visual Communication, Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1953. Reprint as paperback: Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1969.

(177) Many are of course aware of the important cycles in the Reichenau, bordering on Switzerland. But there are many others. See, for instance, a number of works in the series Schweizerische Kunstführer published in Basel, later Bern:

Andreas Moser Kirche Zweisimmen 1959
Marcel Strub L'eglise de Ressudens 1962
   "           " Kirche Belp 1964
Ernst Murbach St. Martin in Zillis 1965
Ernst Murbach, Emil Weinauer Kirche Oltingen 1967
Emil Brunner Galluskapelle von Oberstammheim 1970
Hans Rudolf Heyer, Ernst Murbach Dorfkirche Muttenz 1976
Markus Bamert, Oskar Emmenegger St. Maria In Pontresina 1977
Alfred Wyss Razen, Sogn Gieri 1977
Marèse Sennhauser-Girard et al St. Johann in Müstair 1986
Cf. the Legend of the true Cross in:
Walter Hugelshofer
Die Kirche von Wiesdangen 1970

I am grateful to my friend, Professor André Corboz (now Geneva), for making me aware and providing me with information concerning these examples.

(178) See

(179) Homer

(180) Virgil

(181) See:

(182) Dante Aleghieri

(183) Al Firdusi, See

(184) Potentially this also obtains in large countries such as the United States. However, the US tendencies towards mono-culture as reflected in the motto, E pluribus unum, undermines their multiculturalism.

(185) The French situation is further complicated that the national body for museums (the Réunion des Musées Nationaux) is under the Ministry of Culture, whereas the most important single museum in the country, the Louvre, is not.

(186) Tibetan Medical Paintings, ed. Yuri Parfionovich, Gyurme Dorje, Fernand Meyer, London: Serindia, 1992

(187) Ranjit Makkuni, "Museum of the Future, N-Dimensional: Project Gita-Govinda," Xerox PARC Technical Report, 1992.

(188) Jack Goody, The domestication of the savage mind, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

(189) See:

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