Crosscurrents of Culture

Sometimes the cultures that seem most foreign to us can be best understood through their art. Tour objects created by Native American, African, and Asian cultures to learn more about the cultural beliefs and traditions of these ancient civilizations.

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Duration: 60 minutes

Capacity: 60 visitors

Tour type: History/cultural


  • Close looking
  • Analysis of observations
  • Finding similarities between cultures
  • Exploration of ancient cultures


  • Art reflects the culture in which it is created. It is influenced by many factors including religion, geography, climate, the natural environment, historical events, and popular trends.
  • All these civilizations had or have complex religious, social, and political structures with highly developed philosophies of life and death.
  • Every society has its own ideals of beauty. These objects represent culture transmitted through art and were created by highly skilled and trained artists. They reflect social standards and values and are not simply a means of individual expression. They are art as communication.
  • Traditionally, these societies used what they found in the natural world to create these objects.
  • Objects for use: The objects on this tour were all originally intended for use, not display. The purpose for each object varied, but uses included: teaching or communicating customs and beliefs; utilitarian objects; signifying a person’s merit or status; use in religious or cultural ceremonies.
  • Reverence for nature and the natural world: Many of these objects illustrate the makers’ close connection to, reverence for, and respect of nature. They saw themselves as part of the earth’s rhythms, flora, and fauna, not separate from it. Their cosmological views show this connection of man with the power of natural forces and the spirits of all living things.
  • Spirit world, ancestors, and the cycle of life: Life and death are considered part of the continuous cycle of life. In these cultures, a connection with ancestors and the spirit world was an important aspect of daily life, bringing with it many rituals and customs.
  • Symbolic or conceptual art: Many of these objects depict imagery and concepts in a symbolic or stylized way. Realism was not necessarily important to the artists; rather, conveying a message or concept was paramount.