Culture could perhaps be viewed as this giant looking-glass; a complex reflection of meaning, values and practices that helps sustain society in big and little ways.
It’s that place where inner meets outer, where our inner lives find recognition and where we encounter the ways of the world. As if culture stands at that line where we touch the world and attempt to make sense of it all. Like a world running alongside ours that’s sometimes working symbolically, sometimes reflecting on social realities, and often mixing both as it plants its seeds for the future (see Notes One).
Within that world, we might find or lose ourselves. It’s presumably a picture that can validate, affirm and uplift or destroy through its representations of our lives? Dealing, as it does, with both the forms of our reality and the more metaphorical exploration of themes and qualities, it’s surely walking lines that are wisest to tread carefully.
I mean, in life there’s always that question of what we perceive then what it means. If culture’s the place we assign and explore meaning, it seems important to exercise caution. Drawing parallels between external qualities and inner ones – that visual code of art – can have serious social impacts; linking looks with goodness or age with relevance could spill over into ‘real world’ attitudes.
It’s interesting, because arguably culture is where we get our ideas for living: social meanings are brought to us through stories we’re told and conversations we’re having about them, informing our thoughts and the paths we choose to walk in life (Notes Two). It’s shaping us all through the journeys it’s taking us on, the preoccupations and characters that are filling our lives this way.
Often, it might be taking the forms of modern life – the problems, realities and choices we face – and using them as its ‘language’, but it’s also doing something different. So, it might seem like a mirror, but at a certain point that reflection merges into the world of ideas and plays with them in ways that might bear little relationship to reality or be particularly helpful when applied to it.
Of course, that raises the question of whether culture ‘should’ be a mirror – if that’s actually its function. Is it offering us the opportunity to reflect upon our lives, understand our values, find ourselves within it? Or does it represent a more subtle relationship between thought and reality, which then works into our personal and social realities?
It’s undoubtedly a wonderful tool for broadening horizons: bringing different times and places to life; exploring ways of being human; peopling our worlds with ideas and images. Universal personal experiences of life, identity, relationship, choice, action can be delved into; potentially uniting us by way of insight into our shared humanity, beyond life’s many divisions. These days, becoming a veritable tidal wave of awareness (Notes Three).
These are perhaps questions too large to do justice to here, but they do seem important ones to get to grips with somehow.
Notes and References:
Note 1: What does art have to say about life?
Note 1: Reference points for how we’re living
Note 1: Playing with fire?
Note 2: Mirrors we offer one another
Note 2: Working through mind & society
Note 2: How we feel about society
Note 3: All that’s going on around us
Note 3: Can we manage all-inclusive honesty?
Note 3: Who should we trust?
Note 3: In the deep end…
On a similar note, The power of understanding looked at the importance of what we keep in mind.