A book with the word ‘culture’ in its title is one I would usually approach with some unease; a first chapter entitled “What is culture” and an early assertion that there are 164 definitions of culture, could only bode trouble. But, in the hands of Gail and Barry Lord, I gallop through the role of the arts in Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia and a short discourse on the Indian caste system, while the book explores the role of patrons in the creative output of Michelangelo and Leonardo.
In looking at the role of the state in the twentieth century, the book hints at the idea of transformational or radical change being provoked by major world events. Before World War II, Paris had probably been the world’s cultural capital. Paris in 1913 saw near riots at the Premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, popularised by Disney’s Fantasia in 1940 and widely acknowledged to have influenced many dancers and choreographers. After the war leadership shifted – some to New York and its emerging visual artists, such as Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko – but also to other cities around the world. The shift of societies into cities is a further example of a fundamental change. But alongside radical change is the slower evolutionary or generational change in which cultures, societies and the arts evolve and develop over time.
Inevitably, the final chapter is the most interesting. The authors outline seven aspects of cultural change ranging from the dominance of cities through intercultural change to the communications revolution. All involved in the visual and performing arts will be intrigued by the seven principles and all will probably disagree with some of them. However, they provide an interesting framework for understanding cultural and artistic evolution; each merits further development in a future volume.