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

7. Conclusions

This paper began by considering the range of content included under the term culture, noting that in the West it is often limited to the fine arts and the performing arts as if these two were in opposition. A survey at the world level revealed that culture includes a number of other elements. This led to a discussion of six basic goals of cultural and artistic expression, namely, connecting (sometimes called the magical function in primitive art); ordering (or ornament); imitating (or mimesis); matching; mixing and exploring. A more detailed study of these goals led to a series of further distinctions, which led us to reconsider some of the main trends of Western art. We showed that these concepts, when approached in the context of the history of literacy, helped us to understand the role of art and culture in terms of increasing levels of aesthetic distance or abstraction. We showed also how a particular commitment to the goal of matching helps to explain an emphasis on linear perspective in much of Western art. An understanding of the five other goals, which were more widely developed elsewhere, helps us to understand why other cultures often chose cultural expressions without linear perspective.

The next section turned briefly to four global threats to culture, namely, unstable politics, some recent trends in global business, notions of evolution involving memes and simplistic trends on the Internet. Section five outlined the need for a world map of cultural values, and sketched how the six goals of culture might be adapted in creating a global approach to culture, which led to consideration of some of the problems concerning meta-data implicit in such a quest.

Throughout this paper, our purpose was 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. In so doing the reader will have discovered that the challenges facing us are far more daunting than the task of scanning in our cultural artifacts and eventually the whole of human knowledge. The real challenges lie in including the complexities of our languages, our local traditions, our different viewpoints, even our differing ways of approaching truth. The task is monumental. It will be enormously difficult. But then who ever said that being a member of the global village in its deepest sense was easy?

The late Professor Gina Fasola used to say, half facetiously, that culture was what remained when we had forgotten everything that we had ever learned.(193) From a global point of view, culture is central to the collective memory of mankind.(194) This cumulative wisdom of our past is our key to future diversity and complexity. To keep this intact and develop it is difficult. To understand the goals of culture and art is very difficult. But are there more noble goals if, as may prove to be case, in the future of culture lies the future of humanity?


I am very grateful to the International Institute of Communications (IIC, London) for their invitation to develop the ideas in this paper. These ideas are the author's personal attempts to understand a bigger picture. They do not reflect the official position of the IIC or any other body.

Readers may recognize an interplay of two quite different intellectual traditions which have inspired the fundamental approach in this paper. On the one hand, the Warburg Institute has inspired a vision of a systematic approach to our cultural heritage. To Sir Ernst Gombrich, my former teacher, who was also the Director of the Warburg Institute, I owe the fundamental insight that we need to understand multiple goals of culture and art: that art cannot be reduced to some naïve single line of progress and evolution.

On the other hand, the idea of using the history of literacy as a means of throwing light on different aspects of culture was inspired by the late Marshall McLuhan and the ideas of what has been called the Toronto School of Communication and includes the ideas of Eric Havelock, Harold Innis, Walter Ong, Brian Stock and Eric McLuhan. The role of abstraction and aesthetic distance in this process has grown out of the author's long studies of perspective. Indeed, the section on European goals of culture has been adapted from a much longer study on the Sources of Perspective and on the Literature on Perspective, which will accompany a two volume, standard bibliography of the field.

Professor Mohindar Partap very kindly read this essay which has grown out of research and conversations with friends over the decades including: Father John Orme Mills, Udo Jauernig, Eric Dobbs, André Corboz and many others. I am grateful to them all.

© 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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(193) I am grateful to Preside Francesca Bocchi (Bologna) for this reference.

(194) Or "personkind" as some prefer to say these days.

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