The word "culture" gets tossed around quite a lot and in all sorts of contexts. Sometimes it has to do with the arts; sometimes it's an expression of a way of life (i.e., culture of violence or culture of poverty); sometimes it's in reference to ethnic effects on lifestyle in terms of rules of conduct, attitudes, and morals.
We can describe someone as being cultured, tell someone else they need to get some culture, and be talking about behaving in a manner that's intelligent and informed, telling someone to learn about the arts, or act with a little more grace and style. Being cultured appears similar to being marinated, in that you have been immersed in certain things to the point where you can't help but to have absorbed them.
A culture is usually composed of several items from each facet of the human experience — a core belief system or philosophy that offers an explanation for the people's existence, a language that articulates the thoughts and concepts that the above postulates, a specific code of conduct or morality that defines everything from interpersonal relationships to the societal contract called justice, and the variety of means in which a group has to express the creative impulse called "art."
The artist acts as a culture's spokesperson, articulating thoughts and concepts in both the literal and abstract. Music, painting, sculpture, dance, writing, theatre, and all of their offshoots can be lumped together under the category of the interpretive arts. The obvious observation is that these artists serve as the translators and teachers to the other people in their society and beyond.
Although on the surface it would appear that the artist plays a significant role in a culture, a great deal of artistic effort has existed at the fringes of society. The artist differs from his cousins, the artisan and the craftsperson, in that a good deal of the artist's output has no practical application in the day-to-day workings of a culture's society.
The more a culture has turned toward the rewards of real return on efforts instead of the abstract, the less recognition and appreciation that are given to the arts. What "use" is something that has no practical application? It's only a frill, something to be enjoyed as an amusement and nothing more.
There are other cultures at the furthest opposite end of that particular barge pole, ones where the arts have been thoroughly integrated into the culture's way of being. The native people of Haida Gwai (The Queen Charlotte Islands) have no word in their entire language for arts.
…we were able to see a different notion of culture, in which there is no word for “art,” so completely does the creative impulse permeate every aspect of lived experience. Miraculously, this is still true today…(The Globe And Mail Saturday, May 27th, 2006)
Everything that the Haida, and many other early cultures, made that was of practical application was also made with regard to aesthetics. From the cedar longhouses, which are the communal meeting places, the masks used in dances and worship, the cedar boxes used for storage, the cloaks and garments that are part of the old way of dressing, and the huge dugout canoes that are used for ocean travel, would all be considered works of art by our culture.