Philosophy of the Arts


Culture is dedication to the ritual

Three conceptions of culture

Culture can be conceived of as
1. a set of products (works of art, our cultural heritage)
2. a set of processes (sports, art policy), or, lastly,
3. as an activity.
The sequence of these three conceptions is conform our common sense views. In reality the activity founds the processes, and these produce the products. By analysing the activity we should find a way to educate culture, as well as as a means to take in so-called ‘other cultures’.

Culture is dedication to the ritual

Culture is dedication to the ritual. This is the activity and its purpose.

Will any ritual do? Yes, why not? Any ritual can serve as the purpose for dedicated behaviour. Dedication provides us with the norms of good and bad.

Cultural education (Cultuureducatie)

Cultural education consists in showing the measure and means of dedication involved in certain cultural events or products: sport, art, architecture, you name it. It means from the beginning: introducing people to the value of the ritual, not primarily to the value of the product.

Culture as a product

Culture as a product (comprised of sets of products), e.g. Western culture, or Islamic culture, is at once a classification of products singled out on account of intra-cultural ritualistic values of dedication, and a merely regulative ideal. Like Ghandi is supposed to have said: “Western culture? Seems like a good idea.” Of course, he was cynical about the value of ‘our’ culture. I am not. I am merely hesitant about substantialising the activities that go into the processes of our rituals, so as to conclude that what is in our museums, for instance, is the summit of our culture.
What is in our museum is in a sense, the summit of our culture, but it is not easy to recognize the culture in it. We do not simply recognize the high culture in so-called high art by visiting the exhibitions showing the masters, Vermeer or Rembrandt, or whoever.

No Rembrandt self-portrait is a value in itself: its value, i.e. the high measure of dedication of the painter (to his paint and the canvas) that went into it, must be retreived from it. That is no easy thing, and not everyone is going to be capable of it.

High and low culture

Is it problematic to distinguish the High from the Low arts (mass culture)? I don’t think so. Check out what is on MTV and you will easily find distinctions at work there, between good and bad video clips. Teach yourself to see the differences and you are culturally educating yourself. No set of cultural products should be immune to this process of dedicated observing. The observing is part of the ritual.

Mass culture

I see how Madonna is dedicated to a vastly different ritual from, say, dr. Dre, or Linkin Park. I do not refer to the particular subcultures these musicians seem to belong to, but to their dedication to the music. Madona does not ‘have it’.

Cultural Studies

The mistake involved in contemporary so-called “Cultural Studies” is the mistake of relativist postmodernism: take any two cultural events or products, and find regularities between them; these regularities comprise these events’ meanings. Through these regularities things are communicated between people. Since, any two regularities will do, no set of cultural products or events is going to be any better than any other.

This is a naturalist fallacy: anything that is, is there for the good.

Cultural Studies fails to recognize the evaluative norms inherent in the rituals involved. These should instruct our analysis.

Art and Sport

Does the idea that all culture is the dedication to the ritual enable us to distinguish between sport and art? Sport, too, can be described in terms of rituals. It is defined by rigid rules that must be complied to at all costs. And those who partake in it try their best to achieve the highes aims available within these narrow limits.
Yes, and a similar description could be provided of the arts. Art, too, is a ritual practice. The crucial difference between sport and art, though is in what holds them together: in sport it is the dedication to the body, in art it is dedication to our means of representation.

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