Exploring Culture in Visual Art

Culture, generally refers to “Patterns of human activity and the devices, which give such activities significance and importance.”

With this definition in mind, Visual Artists might find themselves saying, “So when am I not exploring culture…” Great point, and while you are pondering that let me get on with some other bits… Thanks…

Patterns of human activity, things we might do repeatedly, things, which have significance or importance, which are repeated.

Therefore there are a lot of things, which could fall into these category’s, the Artist using these to communicate and or explore “stuff” about them could find some interesting starting points, here are a few, I am sure there is more.

Take any of these and consider ways to utilise them as a starting theme, then figure a few ways to make art with the “cultural” starting point. VCE Studio Arts can have a component which tackles this very subject.


© Steve Gray 2010+

How about this as an example, War – There are many ways to depict war in art, but what if I was to collect copies of war time newspaper articles and create a collage of the cut up articles… I could cut out shapes of guns and overlay them, I could make patterns out of the collage of guns, the result is a starting point on the theme of war. Of note here is the way I can explore the idea and fit it to the cultural theme, therefore I can explore the theme in a range of ways which may lead me to examining the topic at a deeper level and hopefully communicate that to others visually.

© Jesse Nivens 2010+

So there’s a start, you could take almost ANYTHING you are interested in and explore it this way. Perhaps a collage might lead you to thinking about a drawing or painting, or ideas for photographs themed from the collage.

By following a train of thought, then exploring it further, you could be creating your own level of significance and importnace about something, so you would be creating your own culture! I figure that’s why art is a called a cultural activity. Hmm if I use that sort of thinking sport could be art… or at least the catalyst to the way we might explore the culture of sport.

Activities to take the concept further;

Exploring the definition of “Culture”.

  1. Find at least five definitions of the term culture (Dictionary and or Internet search) and from those distill a series of points to assist in strengthening your understanding of the term “culture” (make sure you do all this in your visual diaries to reference it later on.)
  2. As you explored the definitions of culture, did anything relate to a topic or subject of interest to you? Do a quick brainstorm and see what happens, based around your interests, asking the question, “What things am I interested in which can clearly relate to “culture”? (Make your brainstorm, at least 21 points long).
  3. From your brainstorming, pick out a few points which are of strong interest to you… Now jot a few points in your visual diary on ways you might be able to use these points.
  4. Create a word based mind map of whats been happening since you started this process.
  5. Make a purely visual mind map to go with the text based one, perhaps search the net for images you can copy and paste, print out and then paste into your visual diary.
  6. Make some notes and or drawings on any key themes you have come across which might be showing up… Are there any strong enough for you to explore as an art work?

Further concepts…

  1. Look at the project 1000 journals this will give you a range of ideas on how others have created journals and make a mini journal on your efforts so far for exploring “culture”…
  2. Create a large drawing using one of the pages from your mini journal as inspiration. (tape together a bunch of pieces of paper to make the image BIG.)
  3. Write about the process thus far in your visual diary and the things you have discovered, what has stood out to you?
  4. Select two of the interviews on Contemporary Visual Artists at our sister site. Take notes about their work and their way of working and how they explore the concept of “culture?”…
  5. Create a few quick drawings or actual pieces in any medium to abstractly explore some more random notions about the term culture.
  6. The culture of various societies is often developed from their history, can you find any links to what you have done in this exploration of the topic and the history of your social background (Country of origin, social position etc.?)

Copyright © Steve Gray 2011+


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