Art is the physical representation of a cultures views, beliefs and practices. It reflects the essences of the people through their drawing, painting, carving, body adornment and folklore (Ember and Ember 2011). Art can help one to understand a culture that may otherwise be hard to relate to, since it reaches people on a basic emotional level. Although art can also vary greatly between cultures, it can at same time it can be a medium that bridges the gap between cultures. It can be used to represent the core beliefs of a society. Art can also be used by societies to express power, prestige, and rank.
First, to understand the importance of art to a people, an examination of the folklore of the Lakota people. The Lakota myth of the white buffalo woman has been passed down in oral tradition, it is a important legend to them and example of their folklore art:
White Buffalo Woman remained in the camp for several days, but after teaching the people the first ceremony associated with the pipe, she told them that she must leave. When she left the camp, she still appeared to be an ordinary woman. After taking a few steps she sat down, and when she got up, she had turned into a red-and-brown buffalo calf. Taking a few more steps, she lay down and rolled over, getting up as a white buffalo calf. After a few more steps she turned into a black buffalo. Then, on top of a nearby hill, she bowed to the four directions and vanished (Rzeczkowski and Rosier 2011:27).
The myth of white buffalo woman shows the culture use of art to express and teach. In this case, the Lakota are telling the story of their origins, the very creation and coming together of their people (Rzeczkowski and Rosier 2011). For the Lakota, white buffalo woman was their creator, thus passing down the myth was of great importance in understanding who they were, and where they came from. Despite the ever changing nature of the oral tradition, and therefore the story changes slightly over the years, the myth of the Lakota's creation is at the core of understanding them as a people.
Art has long held a place of importance in cultural expression and understanding. Now looking at a renaissance master piece in order to show its reflection on and importance to the culture at the time. Rome's Sistine Chapel's frescoes were painted by Michelangelo. In 1512, he returned 24 years later to paint the Last Judgment on the altar wall (Nelson 2013). To stand at the base of the chapel, and I speak from personal experience, and look up at the ceiling is a truly awe inspiring sight, one that overwhelms the senses, and leaves the viewer in stunned silence at the work of a true master. The colors in the fresco, the attention to detail and the shear size of it, evokes strong emotions. It is hard to believe that it could have been made by man, but rather it seems to have been crafted by the supernatural. Of course that is the point of the work. To the Roman Catholic culture at the time the chapel was designed, to make one feel in awe of the God, and feel a connection to the supernatural. The Chapel is the reflection of the Catholic culture that predominates the area. The art of the chapel is a depiction of the catholic religious views of biblical scripture, as James Romaine tells us, "Michelangelo presents a storyline of grace foretold through the prophets, incarnate in Christ, and present in the sacraments of the church. His frescoes are a magnificent example of how a Christian artist can interpret Scripture through art" (Romaine 2006:23).
The Sistine Chapel shows the views of the Catholic culture with scenes of creation depicted. Once again we find a common creation theme in art, this time it is visual with the fresco the Creation of Adam. James Romaine describes the scene for us;
Michelangelo's Creation of Adam is one of the most famous and theologically complex images in the history of art. Adam, the most spectacular of God's creations, has been wonderfully formed, but his limp body still stretches across the earth from which it was made. God is about to give Adam the final touch of life. This will cause Adam to stand up, setting him apart from the material out of which he was made and from the rest of creation (Romaine 2006: 25).