What is Art and Culture? What is the difference between the two?

When we think of ‘Art and Culture’, what comes to mind is everything that the UPSC asks questions on – be it Persian literature, the Bhakti-Sufi tradition or Gandhara art, etc. You possibly have a vague idea about these two terms, so before we proceed to their definitions, what’s the difference between the two?


Try the following exercise – classify each of the following into one of two groups, ‘Art’ or ‘Culture’:

    1. Chola bronze sculpture
    2. Singing hymns in praise of different Gods
    3. Filial piety (respecting your elders)
    4. Bharatnatyam
    5. Thang Ta
    6. Sujni
    7. The language Maithili
    8. Buddhism and Jainism
    9. Nowruz/Navroz
    10. Idli, dosa and aloo parantha


Bharatnatyam and Thang Ta are performing arts. They thus would be classified as an Art form. However, by being a part of these performances as performer or audience, having a feeling of “this is a part of me, my identity” would mean that this art form is intrinsic to one’s culture.

Similarly, while cooking the perfect idli/dosa/aloo parantha may be an art in itself, the process of indulging in a plate of idli/dosa and/or aloo parantha especially when abroad (you wouldn’t care less when you have it at home or at a hotel in India) would make the majority of you feel very much like you belong to what one would refer to as “Indian culture”.

Languages, religions, filial piety and singing hymns are all part of culture, not art.

Culture is a way of life. Art is a manifestation of culture, of creative urges of people belonging to a certain culture. Customs and traditions too are nothing but a manifestation of culture.

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘Culture’ as “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively”, and as “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.”

The same dictionary defines ‘Art’ as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power”, and as “the various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, literature, and dance.”