Art – A New Topical Summary for Explaining Human Culture


A new topical summary on Art is now available in Explaining Human Culture, our open access database that summarizes the results of over 1,000 cross-cultural studies. The art module is co-authored by HRAF President Carol R. Ember, along with current intern Abbe McCarter and former intern Jack Dunnington.

The purpose of the topical summaries is to overview what we think we have learned about a particular topic, such as art, and to point out some of the things we do not yet know from cross-cultural research. It is our hope that these summaries will not only be useful for classroom use, but will also stimulate further research to fill in the gaps in our knowledge.

The Art summary can be downloaded as a PDF file or ePub (ebook). The summary provides more in depth information to supplement the Art teaching exercises available on Teaching eHRAF. Here is the abstract from the summary:

All societies have some form of art. Art is not just a way for individuals to express themselves—it is also a product of culture. Focusing on visual art, music, song, dance, and folktales, this module explores how and why art may vary, or be similar, across cultures.

Cross-cultural research, most of it based on diverse worldwide samples of societies, has concentrated on variation in art as an expression of society, trends based on degree of societal complexity, and art as reflected in child-rearing practices. The EHC topical summary reviews adaptationist explanations for cultural variation, cultural universals, and a review of what we know and what we don’t know. Various forms of art are covered in the summary including visual art, music/song, dance, and folktales. We believe that this summary will add insights to an important and popular topic which HRAF has featured regularly. You can also explore one of our posts that relate to art:

Visual Art

An Introduction to Rock Art

Music / Song

Songs Across Cultures


Traditional Basarwa (San) dancing in Botswana


Folklore and fairies in Rural Ireland

The topic of art is prevalent across the academic curriculum in higher education and especially relevant in the humanities (art history, classics, dance, music, studio art, theatre) and in the social sciences (anthropology, archaeology, ethnomusicology, folklore studies, psychology, sociology). Interdisciplinary and cross-cultural research on art-related topics explore material and visual cultures as well as sensory and aesthetic practices.

Explaining Human Culture explores cross-cultural questions about human universals and differences on a wide variety of subjects.

Topical summaries are now available in the following areas:

To review the Art summary and other topical summaries – or to search the database by documents, hypotheses, and variables – please visit Explaining Human Culture.