Culture & belonging

CULTURE AND BELONGING

WE WEAR OUR CONNECTIONS ON OUR SLEEVES.

What we wear, how we move and how we engage others – all the seemingly random or insignificant decisions we make in a day tell a story. They tell our story. We may feel that the story begins with us – with the statement we want to make on any given day. But the truth is every choice in front of us carries unshakeable links to history and cultures ….

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Five artistic disciplines

Five artistic disciplines provide the conceptual framework we use to explore belonging. We act. We wear. We tell stories. We sing. We use symbols.

THEATER & ACTING

Our lives are filled with scripts we follow. All the basics of ETIQUETTE and PROTOCOL keep things running smoothly and reduce social friction. RITUALS, like marriages or holidays, are repeatable ways people participate in their cultures’ values. We all adjust how we ACT in different situations. Picture how people act differently at a string quartet concert vs at an outdoor music festival. We are in control of our conduct and our cultures establish the rules. We send signals to the groups to which we want to belong by honoring their expectations. Most cultures have preferred approaches to DISPLAY OF EMOTIONS. We are able to adjust how we express ourselves and recognize that lack of adherence brings some risk. Some religious services are fully participative and emotional and others are quiet and contemplative. Children practice and prepare for adulthood in our communities by PRETENDING. Gender roles, particularly, are taught and reinforced in cultures by encouraging little mommies or daddies – or soldiers or teachers.

THEATER & ACTING

MUSIC/DANCING/MOVEMENT

Humans are musical creatures. It has been proposed that SINGING evolved to facilitate social cohesion. It promotes fast connection among strangers and deeper connection with a known community. When we sing or DANCE, we SYNCHRONIZE with one another. Not just our voices or movements but our heart rates. Our breathing. We experience ourselves well beyond the confines of our individual bodies. In our brains, the boundaries between us blur. Music captures CULTURES. We need only hear a few bars to recognize genre or nationality or generation. Children are bathed in the music of their heritage from before they are born. It will always feel like home. It helps tell the stories and establish the uniqueness of the community. Each culture has its own unique choreography and dance movements that communicate history, values and life lessons. Movie SOUNDTRACKS often drive the emotional trajectory of a story. A view of the ocean is just water until you hear the two notes from Jaws. HARMONY and DISSONANCE are experienced physically. We hold our breath - together - until the phrase is resolved.

MUSIC/DANCING/MOVEMENT

STORYTELLING & LITERATURE

GOSSIP is, perhaps, the most ubiquitous form of storytelling. What and who gets talked about (and why) feeds us all a steady stream of warnings about straying from what our culture accepts as appropriate. It makes many of us run away from our home groups to find ourselves reflected in a positive way with others. Fictional HEROES and protagonists help us understand the challenges we will all face by modeling a culture’s core values. Western stories tend to celebrate a ‘might makes right’ approach, which is contrary to some eastern sensibilities. Whoever gets celebrated in our stories serves as role models. We all want to be celebrated. CHILDREN’S BOOKS may seem to be about hungry bunnies or silly chickens, but kids pick up on all the powerful cultural messaging going on in the background. Gender roles. Consideration of others. Consequences for misbehaving (isolation?). TELLING (and retelling) THE STORY about how a group began, or how the world began, is a powerful way to induct new generations into a group. Consistent MYTHS, heroes and journeys give us frameworks for today. RELIGIONS have SACRED TEXTS where the words themselves – touching the words – is like touching lightning. Reading also broadens our understanding of the world and of ourselves. We see we are not alone which can help us heal and hold on for better days. We develop empathy for those who are different from us. We can live in their skin for a while. And, finally, MEDIA. Everywhere we turn we are exposed to stories about people who flew too close to the sun or who put themselves above others and paid the price. And endless stories about SPORTS and ENTERTAINMENT STARS – the most common heroes today.

STORYTELLING & LITERATURE

APPEARANCE & FASHION

Our bodies come pre-wired to connect. They are on high alert and ready to respond and build connections. But with billions of people milling around us, how do we increase the odds that we can find a real connection? Welcome to the world of connection marketing. We are all in the business of telling passers-by who we are. Something as simple as ATTIRE is actually never simple. It speaks volumes about our financial status or age or ethnicity. Our HAIR. Our own unique texture and curliness is ready to be fashioned (and ready to resist our best efforts to control it). We put on faces – sometimes enhanced with GROOMING or MAKEUP.  We dress to belong, following DRESS CODES, UNIFORMS and CULTURAL EXPECTATIONS. Wearing flipflops to a baptism might send a message that we didn’t respect the ceremony and the values it represents. BODY ART, including tattoos and piercings, is often an ‘in your face’ statement about resistance or belonging. Cultural expectations related to gender can dominate and intimidate. Each step into non-binary fashion invites curiosity and, in some cultures, the wearer can risk marginalization. Teens, as they work to find their niches, sort out into identifiable styles, from low-slung jeans to popular logos to $1000 sneakers. To belong means to honor the ‘code’ to the extent that you can.

APPEARANCE & FASHION

VISUAL ARTS

It’s easy to think of appreciating the visual arts as a passive activity. Looking. Not touching. Not engaging with it. But, as fast as they eye can see, we absorb the IMAGES and the stories that imagery tells. Recent research has shown how subtle an element in a picture might be and yet it can have a profound effect. Toddlers were shown a picture with an activity in the foreground and a bookcase in the background. On that bookcase, when there is an image of two people happily facing one another, these toddlers are significantly more likely to help the researcher pick up spilled toys than those who had a different picture on the shelf. What we see can affect what we do. Many religions have recognizable SYMBOLS, (the Star and Crescent, the Cross, the Star of David) which not only inform all the rituals, but also identify one’s faith to others in the community. LOGOS & BRANDS are designed to represent a company’s values, and people often wear or drive or drink the products they feel represent the group with which they want to be identified.  Some ILLUSTRATIONS & PICTURE BOOKS teach children that moms carry purses and dads have fun– even if no word is written. FLAGS symbolize what is important about nations or schools or clubs. Any damage to these symbols can stir controversy and anger.  Who and what gets hung on our walls are seen as being worthy and important. And, finally, we have FAVORITE THINGS in our lives, memorabilia – like mini-sculptures – that continue to carry warm feelings and memories for us. Simply seeing them in our space helps us feel connected to the moments and the people they represent.

VISUAL ARTS

Cultures and Groups

We live our lives in communities and groups with common interests. These commonalities might be race or faith or professional specialty – or favorite sports teams. Membership is reinforced and on display. It might be as simple as a hat with a logo or as comprehensive as guidelines on how to live a good life. We explore a few in detail, using the five artistic discipline framework.