Question #1: How does art limit knowledge?
As a form of expression and storytelling, like all things human and man-made, art contains some bias (opinion or lens) at which it uses to perceive the world: it has the artist with the tools who is creating it. The artist has an individual mind that views the world through his own personal beliefs and systematic cultures alongside his upbringing. This bias is generally stemmed from outside influences and later on introspection of the self as the artist’s career progresses and either flourishes or plummets.
Sadly, as people we cannot avoid the evidence and appearance of bias, but we can make it obvious or subtle based upon what our rationale, motivation, and desired message. Some want to be brave and make a bold, rebellion-resembling statement that could possibly end up being censored; while others would prefer to sway the audience with a more subtly intervening way into the minds of the audience. Why? Because bias brings forth opinion and choice.
On a different (yet related) note, if one thinks of the famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware, no one thinks to question its validity or truth to what it is supposed to be. No one knows exactly how George Washington and his troops crossed the Delaware back then, so the man who painted the original painting used his imagination and made an iconic image blindly accepted by the public. Art limits our public knowledge because in some cases it is all we have to connect with history and our pasts: things like photographs, posters, recordings, paintings, sculptures, cave art and these are all remnants of a time that we couldn’t experience that are now up to our interpretation.
Art is only part of the argument–at least paintings are–and there is also the thoughts of science and mathematics, philosophy, government, sports and athletics.. There is so much we can still learn and see that is more than art, because when you only see one side of a story, you’re only getting one of the faces.
Question #2: How much can we learn from a culture by studying the art it produces?
Art is a form of expression, it tells stories and histories that were once only verbal traditions. However, it can give us insight into the common life of today, and make us question the very actions we do. That is the power of art: passion, tales, and questions.
Cultures are often different when you travel around the world: the customs change, the clothing changes, and most times the language as well. We live in a world where different societies coexist, and yet we know nearly nothing of certain cultures. Part of the art that makes a culture is language and communication patterns.
Art is also a form of communication, as I mentioned above when I was talking about bias. When we look at a piece of art, there is not only a story or plot (for literature), there is also an argument that can be examined. There is the intention of the artist versus the response of the desired (or undesired) audience. Whether it be a writer with her novels or a sculptor with his statues, all art has the desired translation and audience; sometimes these two don’t agree, but others they do.
In life, though, cultures don’t always agree. Some believe that sacrificial customs are inhumane why others believe it to be a part of the community’s cleansing process similar to the Christian’s belief of Jesus Christ taking on all sin upon death. But to some cultures this is also a form of art.
A good real life example of cultural art is the San tribe in Africa; they are also known as the Bushmen. Their old culture used to occupy the more Southern-southern regions of Africa, like Zimbabwe, and their spiritual leaders would force themselves into trances for various reasons. They experience what some psychologists call form constants, which are naturally occurring geometric formations in the brain, and eventually try to make sense of them as they grow deeper into the trance. While they try to understand what the shapes are, psychologists say that they are most influenced by the what govern the San culture. (Seeing as they are hunter-gatherers, it makes sense for it to be a large enough animal to feed the tribe and support it.)
The San shamans–the spiritual leaders of tribes–say that the altered state of conscience provides them wisdom. However, nowadays the San no longer reside in the most Southern portion of Africa and have migrated more towards the center of the continent, as well as they no longer do cave paintings. They have neither the grand rocks to paint upon nor the elder members who remember what they mean to translate. This leaves the translation up to whoever views them, which make inaccurate stories and histories that would be falsified if they were ever released into the outside public mind.
Art comes in many forms: music, painting, sculptures, graffiti, literature, poetry… There are so many possibilities with art and its relation to culture, one can only imagine the greatness. It is not only a part of culture and an orator of it, it is culture because the arts are humankind’s greatest tool of expression and communications.