Defining Culture – Impacting Our World

Special Editions


JUNE 2022

Edited by Huib Wursten


Huib Wursten,

Eric Alexander DeGroot,



One of the intriguing puzzles is that Culture and Art are mostly seen as separate issues.

The godfather of empirical culture research, Geert Hofstede, makes a distinction between culture in the narrow sense in which ‘culture’ is only used for the arts: music, painting, and literature. Culture, in the broad sense, applies, according to Hofstede, to collective ways of acting, thinking, and feeling. ‘Culture’ in this sense is defined as: “the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from others” (Hofstede, Hofstede and Minkov 2010). This means that culture is not in the genes or chromosomes of people but rather the result of subconscious learning influenced by parents, teachers and other important societal influences in the environment of children.

Culture as collective programming of the mind manifests itself in several ways. In principle, we can distinguish symbols, heroes, rituals, and values. These can be imagined as the “layers” of an onion, symbols representing the most superficial and values the deepest layers.
of culture.

The metaphor of an iceberg is used to describe how the layers are connected. The deepest layer is below water level and invisible. The other layers are visible but rest on and are “steered” by the invisible structure below.

In daily newspapers, the different layers are separated. “Culture” sections show articles on the “narrow” approach: performing Arts, movies and literature.

Value-driven discussions about Identity wars and Critical Race theory are found under “Politics” or “society”. In this sense, it is interesting to look at the subdivision found on the American news website “The Daily Beast”. Their subdivision of “Arts and Culture” is “STYLE, SEX, MEDIA, AND THE STAGE”


The purpose of the special Culture and Art is to explore the connection between the narrow and broad definition of culture.

Analyzing the articles, two main elements can be identified:

  1. The influence of the core dimensions of culture on Art and Artists.

In the article “Reflections on Culture, Art and Artists in Contemporary Society,” it is shown that Individualism highly influences both contemporary art and politics as a cultural phenomenon. The author describes the development of Individualism and its influence on contemporary society. Individualism is leading, on the one hand, to a focus on self-expression and subjective perceptions of society. On the other hand, to an awareness of “diversity, equal rights, and Identity. The author states that for artists nowadays to be seen as “relevant,” there is a drive to tune in on political issues like race and inequality.

The opposite of this cultural continuum, Collectivism, is the focus of “In Search for a Philosophy of African Art.” Arthur d’Ansembourg says that if we want to reflect on (traditional) African philosophy and art, we should make a distinction between art as an aesthetic object and art as a cult object. We need to understand that what we call Art was originally created to establish a relationship between man and the higher world of gods, spirits and ancestors. This raises the question of whether we canunderstand African sculptures and masks as works of art and, moreover, what we actually mean by the word “art”.

Also, Jan Vincent Meertens is drawing attention to Collectivism. In “A Journey to Macondo” shows that “High Context communication” as a reflection of Collectivism is affecting the style of Garcia Marguez and he explains that: “intercultural communication, face theory, politeness strategies and translation strategies” all are elements that make it now and then difficult for readers from Northwestern Europe and North America (in my words Individualistic cultures) to understand what is happening.

Carel Jacobs, in “The Vulnerable Human Being,” wrote a cultural anthropological study on the life and work of Vincent van Gogh. In this richly illustrated article he shows that the choices Vincent van Gogh made in his life and in his choice of themes are influenced by “Feminity”, the sympathy for the under-privileged and “Individualism,” the focus on subjective impressions of reality.


  1. The possibilities of Art in creating empathy for other cultural groups and their values.


Meertens asks: “Will outside readers ever be truly able to crawl under the skin of the author, challenging their own cultural preconceptions?”

Wursten is optimistic. He writes: “If we say that others can never understand the position and perceptions of others, it would kill civil societies, because, if this would be true, you are also saying that we can never understand, let go appreciate, literature, movies, music, paintings, and dance from other cultures. Isn’t it true that it is a human faculty that we are able to empathize with others? If so, certainly, we can appreciate perceptions, perspectives, and the points of view of others. Art helps us to do this! It allows us to create a multilayered emotional appreciation. It elevates our understanding beyond the point of view of a merely disconnected spectator”.

Jacobs describes the effects of van Gogh’s time in London: “Vincent is also confronted with the downside of the turbulent economy. The traditional English class society is rapidly transforming into a society with “haves and have nots”. He sees poverty in the streets and is impressed by writers such as Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol), who denounce social injustice, abject poverty and the relationship between them. Deep in his heart, he undoubtedly wonders whether his social motivation lies with the less fortunate. His decision to follow a calling as a lay priest may already be sown here.

Arthur d’Ansembourg warns that we have to be careful. To avoid superficial comparisons, we need to be educated in the cultural background of artists to understand their works fully.

He writes: An interesting and problematic attempt to present European and traditional African art was the exhibition: “Primitivism” in 20th-century art. The Moma organized this exhibition in 1984-85 and the subtitle of the exhibition was Affinity of Tribal and Modern Art (Rubin, 1984). The visitor was invited to come and experience African statues and masks that were exhibited together with the modernist works of Picasso, Matisse and Dubuffet. At first glance, it appeared that the non-Western artist was equal to the Western artist. There was a dialogue between the forms of non-Western pre-colonial art and the avant-garde art of Western modernity. The exhibition showed how the style of African sculptures and masks inspired Western artists. The viewer gained insight into the way in which the development of Western art was influenced by pre-colonial African art.

At the same time we see that African art in this exhibition is qualified as primitive in comparison to modern art. Thus, another culture is presented as underdeveloped in comparison to the works of artists who are part of the Western avant-garde. We also see that the sculptures and masks are detached from their original ritual context. The works fascinate us because of their aesthetic qualities, but were originally created to establish a relationship between man and the higher world of gods, spirits and ancestors. This raises the question for me whether we can understand African sculptures and masks as works of art and what we actually mean by the word “art.

De Groot quotes Valentin Okorokov: “Without art, without beauty, our life would be poor, dull and devoid of emotion; even the human soul would suffer some form of erosion.”

The title of this article is Culture and The Art Market and the impact that one has had AND continues to have on the other. Similar to the question; ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg?’ – is culture impacting art more or art impacting culture more.” He adds: Fact though is that Art saved us all since March of 2020 when Covid-19 broke out. Think about it: books, videos, Netflix, social media, sculptures, poetry, paintings, dance, concerts, all these visual and performing arts ‘kept us sane’.


Culture and ART


Table of content:

d’ Ansembourg: In search for a philosophy of African art

Huib Wursten: Reflections on Culture, Art and Artists in Contemporary Society.

Jan Vincent Meertens: A Journey to Macondo. Will outside readers ever be truly able to be able to crawl under the skin of the author, challenging their own cultural preconceptions?

Carel Jacobs: The vulnerable human being. A cultural anthropological study on life and work of Vincent van Gogh.

Eric Alexander de Groot: Culture and The Art Market 




Huib Wursten,

Eric Alexander DeGroot,