Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Culture isn't just the arts

By Donald Richardson - posted Tuesday, 10 January 2012

In my submission on the Discussion Paper for the proposed National Cultural Policy, I questioned its assumption that the terms 'the arts' and 'culture' mean the same thing or are interchangeable:

There is a challengeable intimation in this proposal for a cultural policy, as it is worded in the DP, in that it implies that the arts equals culture. But I think we have to recognise that culture is a broader concept than 'the arts.' The Macquarie Dictionary ('Australia's National Dictionary') defines culture as 'the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings which is transmitted from one generation to another.' Of course, the arts are part of culture, but culture must also include religion, sport, philosophy, business, science, cuisine and possibly other things as well.

So – are we looking for aculture policy or an arts policy? If we continue to discuss the arts as synonymous with culture we can expect reasonable dissention from, at least, the churches and members of the sporting and business communities. My guess is that we are discussing an arts policy, but that we are afraid to name it lest the philistines descend on us. Will naming it The National Arts Policy give it the kiss of death? Surely our (wider) culture is mature enough in this century to be frank about it?


My sampling of the submissions published on the Policy's website to date indicates that – with one possible exception - no submissions have been made by any entity other than an arts body. So, there is tacit agreement that the country is looking to the government to establish an arts policy, nothing less.

But this sponsors the questions:


  1. Does the fact that no submissions are published from religion, sport, business, science etc mean that these entities do not consider themselves aspects of our culture?
  2. Should their participation be pursued?
  3. Or have they decided that the entire project just confirms the common view that arts people just spout nonsense?

All these are matters that beg to be resolved.

The possible exception mentioned is that of the Federation of Australian Historical Societies, which alludes to the problem by asking for 'the inclusion specifically of "the study and publication of history" as a cultural and creative endeavour.' The Federation justifies its request as follows:


We urge that a generally accepted definition of "culture" be included such as "The totality of socially transmitted behaviour patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions and all other products of human work and thought.

But - according to both definitions mentioned - history is already part of culture! The Federation's manoeuvre is entirely caused by the confusion of terms and meanings embodied in the theory on which the Discussion Paper has been constructed. If we continue the fiction that arts andculture are one and the same thing, to call history 'art' is the only way to get it accepted as 'culture' – a most bizarre manoeuvre!

History is certainly of major cultural significance to any society, so its role must be considered in any culture policy. But in an arts policy?

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. 4
  6. 5
  7. 6
  8. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

11 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Donald Richardson is a practicing artist, art educator and art historian-theorist. He was formerly the Superintendent of Studies (Visual Art) in the Education Department of South Australia.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Donald Richardson
Related Links
The design dilemma

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 11 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy