What is the difference between arts and culture?

Sandy Fitzgerald

From doing a lot of work I mean I have worked for the sector now for over 40 years. And also I travelled a lot with my own work throughout Europe. And one of the big problems I come up against all the time is the confusion between art and culture and the definition of art and culture. And this cuts across everything.  

If people do not understand the difference between the art and culture what separates them then you are always beginning from the wrong place. I think a lot of people confuse the two when they talk about art and culture, culture and art it is the same thing for them. But in fact culture is really about developing society and it is about the quality of life, it is about every aspect of human behaviour. Culture is really the space that we create within the environment as human beings and that is the difference between us and nature. Nature actually develops in its own freedom. We are part of nature then as a sub-section we are creating this culture, this cultural development. That is totally human made.

Cities of Culture in Europe for instance I think there is a big misunderstanding in a lot of those projects because they are all about investing in art. But that does not necessarily mean we are investing in the culture of the city. So for many years in many different situations I have discussed these questions with lots of other people. People have had debates. There have been ongoing debates for forty years much more about what culture is.

A good few years ago in the nineties in Dublin there was a research project done by Trinity College and it was about different capitals in Europe and how young people behaved. And it was measured on things like anti-social behaviour, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, all of these things. And in Ireland we were very surprised to find that actually Dublin was down at the bottom of this survey and Amsterdam was at a top. So the young people in Amsterdam really were very engaged with their culture and saw that there is a lot for them regard to their future.

And it suddenly clicked with me that actually the very simple definition of culture is the culture is about having a future. And if you can see your future and if you have a place to go in the future then your life becomes meaningful and then you have something to participate in and you have something to invest in.

If you see no future then why would you participate. And also not only that, you probably react negatively. And lots of young people in all the cities in Europe are in the situation where they cannot see a future for themselves. So they are reacting in ways that are very damaging to themselves, to their communities, to their cities, to their societies. And that is why we should be investing in the culture.

Investing in art will not solve that problem and will not change anything. So if you want to change culture you have to invest in culture as is defined as our behaviour as human beings. And of course art can actually make a big difference in that. And art should be the leader in that but it is not actually. And the reason is not that a lot of artists do not understand this either, a lot of cultural organizations, art organizations do not understand this question.

If you go to invest in art then you have to really understand the difference between the art and culture. And if you then decide to invest in art, that is fine. But the problem I see all the time is that people do not know what they are talking about. They have not defined what they mean by arts and culture. And they therefore probably are investing in the wrong thing.

Culture is really everything that human beings create in our world, in our physical space. And that is everything. I mean everything, language, agriculture food, buildings, everything. Every single thing that we create is a culture.

Art is one of the aspects of culture. It is a very defined creative approach to making objects or making concepts. It is defined as a physical thing that we create be it a painting or a movie or whatever. So it is almost like creating. It is a craft or a skill by which we create an object. And that object can be conceptual as well as physical. But is very definite. It is very defined activity and it is a very defined product that you have in art. Whereas the culture is everything, what we are surrounded by.

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Sandy Fitzgerald

Sandy Fitzgerald

Ambassador of Trans Europe Halles in Dublin, Ireland

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