The work of artists is done within the constructs of their socialization and enculturalization processes in life. The work of artists is done within the construct of specified training and of social, institutional, and group dynamics that is unique to artists. Artists create the expressive symbolic references for a society.
Artists can range from those who work with textiles to create the fabrics for decoration, to the painters who create art that is so refined in it’s symbolic representation that it takes an education in order to understand it.
Any student of the first common definition of “culture”, which not only includes excellence, but defines “taste” and greatness in craftsmanship, will study the arts as the highest form of cultural symbolic expression. The relationship between the arts and culture is a recursive one, where the art is judged by it’s existing fit into predetermined standards that are set by society and institutions, and where the art can create new directions in societal acceptance of artistic works.
Every category of the visual arts, from ceramics to painting has it’s “periods” and “schools”. These are definitive categories, where technology, skill, vision and ideas changed, or were changed by those who told stories, made records, or commissioned the works to incorporate their own ideas and standards. The arts are influenced by society or by natural and political forces, including religions which exert various levels of secular control over society.
Archeologists study the ancient and not so ancient artifacts of human artistic activity to determine what they say about past human society, behavior, activity, ideas and beliefs at any given time in history. They pore over every aspect of the artifacts to identify the materials, processes, and techniques in order to classify them and to relate them to a particular era.
Anthropologists will be interested in the work as a demonstration of the biological intellectual development of humans. When were the first tools for carving wood used? Do the symbols represent an individual’s belief and ideals, or were they developed to represent societal or group ideals? What story is being told?
Sociologists might be interested in the way that artistic trends develop and are incorporated by whole societies, by “underground” societies, or by nations. They might be interested in how artistic representations are intended to create social change, group identity, or social movements.
Psychologists might be interested in the physiological and biological aspects of the arts, as toxic chemicals caused mental disorders, or as historical or personal events changed the psychological makeup of the artist, who expressed those changes in his or her artwork.
Curators must evaluate the authenticity, condition, and age of the artistic work, then determine whether it is a true original, is properly documented and classified, is properly restored or repaired, and is properly housed and displayed to prevent damage from the elements. Forensic art curators and evaluators may work to identify not only forgeries, but the forgers, themselves.
Deconstructionists work to break down the elements of artistic works, to define the elements, and to classify the works’ places in the history of art. They also evaluate the works for their quality, excellence, or lack thereof, then report their judgments in ways that are designed to affect the acceptance or rejection of the general society.
Finally, the society either rejects or embraces the work based on external and internal factors. Where there is broad acceptance, a new style, definition of “taste” or “excellence”, or “fad” is created. In some cases, the name of a fashion designer or artist is enough to create instant accolades and demand. In other cases, tools for social engineering, such as marketing campaigns are used to stimulate acceptance and demand. Students of culture may also be focused on these processes and study them.
In summary, artistic creations are the physical entities which tell a lot about culture, whether it was an ancient culture or whether the creations will come out next Spring. A student of culture can choose from a vast array of analytical tools and intellectual approaches for studying art and it’s relationship to culture as a lifetime profession.