In his book “The Dynamics of Culture and Society,” Roger Martin points out that the arts have been influencing culture since the time of the ancient Greek philosophers. According to Martin, art has been a crucial force in the shaping of societies since it allowed a form of expression free to the masses, which in turn, was part of the opening up of communication that occurred during the Renaissance. This opening opened up spaces for social interaction and, in so doing, allowed people to express more about their feelings. The arts thus served as a means to more easily communicate negative as well as positive thoughts. In addition to this, the arts also served as a form of entertainment, something that people were willing to invest in and spend money on.
The Greeks in particular were known to value the arts and crafts, many times going so far as to acquire them as a necessary component of life. Art was not only about art but also about literature and music. In fact, the concept of “chore” was almost synonymous with Greek culture.
Art and the arts in the modern era are often taken out of this context. Modern people’s notions of the arts are usually associated with the avant garde and artistic movements of the last century or so. However, the idea of the arts goes way back to the earliest forms of human civilization. From the earliest writings we know of, art had been important to humankind. The Egyptians were known to have paintings as well as sculptures.
Art in itself is not a mere phenomenon of culture. Rather, culture is affected by the arts in large measure. The importance of the arts can be seen in how they helped to shape society. For instance, in ancient Athens, where art forms such as theatre and the drama were developed, a sense of community was created because people could see the works of their ancestors in the play and in other plays.
A major part of the Greek culture emerged out of the artistic ability of the people to perform the most difficult of tasks. This was especially true for the sculptors who were highly skilled at the portrayal of the dead. Sculpture was central to Greek society and helped to define the class system. In fact, many sculptors were buried with their own works behind them, as they did not want their bodies to be eaten by others. The importance of the arts can also be seen in how, after the collapse of the classical Greek city-state, much of the artistic output remained from the city-states as it was considered beyond the power of the ordinary citizens of that time.
The arts can also be seen in other societies such as that of China. Unlike Greece and the rest of the world, China did not develop great literature or serious drama in the first place. The same is true of Japan. The arts in Japan were developed later, as the country itself was largely destroyed during World War II. They are, however, still very strong and serve to define the society in which they exist.
The arts have been seen, since the advent of modernity, as being a relatively progressive force in the world. They have, for example, contributed greatly to the development of the world’s economy. However, in the contemporary world in which most of the values of the past are either fading away or becoming secondary to a more secularized world view, the role of the arts in shaping social attitudes and behavior has become somewhat trivial. This phenomenon is a danger that must be averted.
There is one aspect of the arts that society can always count on, however. Art can offer an escape from the many problems that a society is facing at the present time. Many people who look at the arts will find something to admire or at least appreciate. If nothing else, the mere sight of great works of art will help them forget about the troubles of the day. This is perhaps the most important aspect of the arts as a phenomenon of culture.