Arts of all kinds have always told the stories of nations and civilizations and been the sensual reflection of culture and heritage. Some of those stories are told by architecture and construction. In Greece we find the Acropolis of Athens, an ancient citadel which bears witness to the philosophy of Greeks and their view of burden-bearing women. Moving to Egypt’s ancient antiquities, we notice that those who built great temples and shrines had no interest in building mansions and worldly dwellings, for Pharaonic philosophy and culture give precedence to the afterlife. Elsewhere, we see the influence of Islamic culture in the architecture of mosques whose pillars were established in a way that allows worshippers to get the rewards of praying in the first row, where human and animal decorations have been replaced with calligraphy and arabesque.
Nowadays, however, the concept of art has become more inclusive, from the 7th art to the cinema, to artworks solely made for commercial purposes, such as TV series that are driven by audience numbers, which eventually last, or reach an end, based on results.
If we grant that arts were a reflection and manifestation of culture throughout history, such an assumption would be very difficult to make about the relationship between the two in modern times.
This is not about right and wrong, but about the extent to which art can redefine culture and free it from the shackles of absolute submission so that it could become more flexible and adaptive to today’s rapidly changing social, political, and economic demands.
The Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein was the first to deploy cinematic work to propagate the revolution and promote communism, which Lenin later exploited to attract the illiterates, which resulted in making communism an essential trait of that Russian society that broke free from the Tsar’s control.
To add some perspective, I am quoting the following saying by Prof. Abdulmohsen Al-Mutairi: “By analyzing the montage of the Odessa Steps scene in Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, we recognize that we are not mere spectators, but that we are actively engaged with the scenes. This means that Eisenstein made the footage in a certain way to directly influence and mentality and psychology of the viewers to gain their unconditional sympathy for the Russian Revolution.
However, when examining cultivation theory -which emerged after the violent events and unrest the U.S. witnessed in the late 1960s based on the theoretical foundations developed by George G. Gerbner (the founder of cultivation theory)-, we find that it considers cultivation a cultural process that creates general and unified concepts as a result of specific temporal and spatial factors far from any natural diversity of the most isolated ideas that are not always linked to facts. This theory assumes that “television offers a symmetrical world of messages and mental images that reflect the prevailing trend.”
Undoubtably, this process is one way of reshaping a society’s perceptions and culture. In China, recent works that target children propagate Marxism on the one hand and the president’s communist beliefs on the other, even if the cultural and economic reality is different from what is being propagated (since the reality is capitalist). According to the Lebanese writer and journalist Elias Harfouche in his article “Communism in China without Communists,” there is a great disparity between China’s propaganda and its world-welcoming reality through economy.
In the Arab world, Arab culture, for example, has been affected by works of art whereby how time is spent during the month of Ramadan has changed dramatically. In the past, artworks used to be podcasted while taking into consideration local culture and times of worship, and mainly they were about religious competitions and historical works of art. Today, however, artworks are podcasted all the time and throughout the month to catch the attention of the audience for as long as possible.
On a similar note, it is unfair to have a one-eyed view of the impact of arts on culture as if they were a mere commercial investment that does not consider preserving and promoting the cultural heritage and values of societies.
Going a step back to the late 1970s, we find an influential and good example of an Arab visual art production: the GCC Join Program Production Institution (GCCJPPI). Many consider the GCCJPPI to have provided valuable cultural contributions in the Gulf region through its programs and its production that reflected the economic boom of the region and accommodated the need to improve meaningful and effective artistic work that promotes and develops prevailing cultural trends without conflict.
The influential thinks Abdul Wahab El-Messiri said: “Human knowledge is comparative; we don’t know a thing in itself, we know it in relation to something similar to it and something different from it.”
Moreover, many believe that the theater had contributed to spreading religious ethics and teachings in the past (the work of Shakespeare as an example) and that the relationship between culture, in all its aspects, and arts of all kinds could be understood by contemplating upon the impact each has on the other and by examining their role in changing societies.
Therefore, there is no definitive answer to the question: which creates the other. Rather, it is established that culture and arts go hand in hand, leading to a more important question: How can we use this unique relationship to advance and promote both?
Culture and arts are intertwined and are an inseparable part of our lives, be it in early childhood or in the prime of our youth -when one is filled with questions and challenges. In adulthood, both are more important than ever. Through beautiful songs we remember our good old days, and through culture full of rich experience we pass on our heritage to future generations to empower them and help them create their own arts and culture.
The relationship between culture in all its aspects and arts of all kinds and forms could be understood by contemplating upon the impact each has on the other and by examining their role in changing the course of a society.
We have a powerful, rich, and original culture on the one hand and huge artistic abilities on the other. Therefore, I believe that in light of rapid changes and unlimited support of culture and arts, we really need to understand the nature of this relationship to be able to direct culture and arts to a direction that meets our aspirations, shows the best in us, and helps us overcome challenges.
By looking back at the time when the GCCJPPI succeeded, we would find that the Gulf society had then considered the tribe as its bedrock. Moreover, it was a culturally and intellectually diverse society. Given is reality, the GCCJPPI was able to address every individual in the Gulf and provide them with relevant artistic content without coming into conflict with the diversities prevalent in the Gulf at the time. On the contrary, the GCCJPPI produced viable art and media because it primarily focused on knowledge and promoted commonalities between people.
When looking at the variety of art tools -so to speak-, we would find that they are widespread and easy to use. Today, fame could be reached quickly and producing a movie, or a TV series is not that difficult. Therefore, anyone could easily contribute to the creation create artistic content, and given the advantages of our times, a society’s local culture is very likely to be influenced by arts in general.