The word 'culture' refers to the collective characteristics by which a community identifies itself and by which it expects to be recognized and respected. Race, religion, nationality, and language have a place in a culture's identity, though they by no means complete its definition. Americans of the Civil War era shared the same races, religions, language, and nationality, though the mercantile culture of New England was markedly different from the plantation culture of the South. In the United States are communities whose members are American citizens, Roman Catholics, and who speak English, but whose cultures are recognizably Irish-German-Polish-Asian-Italian-Hispanic-African-American. In Bosnia live Muslims of different nationality, race, and language from the Muslims of the Sudan or Somalia, and their cultures also differ. What seems to count most in the definition of culture today is its perceived heritage and its customs, folkways, and lifestyles, and, of course, its art.

ArtA central and compelling issue in the contemporary world involves the status that each of many distinctive cultures should have within the secular civilization of the developed nations; this is the issue of multiculturalism. The Western world, during the last five centuries, has witnessed in succession wars of religion, wars between dynastic states, wars among nations, and wars among classes of people.

The movement of millions of people criss - crossing the globe might be expected to bring increasingly rapid global acculturation that is cultural exchange. Acculturation on a global scale has begun slowly in the centuries of European expansion. In the nineteenth century it quickened with the opening of the East and the colonization of Africa. In the twentieth century it is greatly accelerated. The collisions of ethnically diverse peoples in war, and the exchange of ethnic cultures as the result of communication and commerce, have gone on at the same time. Western civilization has coloured world civilization, but in the process it has itself become significantly modified.

Though artists, critics, dealers, buyers, and the public continue to explain and to judge, or seek explanation or methods of judging, the pervasive effects of the Multicultural ideology can be felt everywhere in today's art world. There is wide spread fear of ethnocentrism, the tendency to explain and to judge artifacts from the perspective of one's own culture and to the detriment of other cultures. This fear prevails in the field of art history, which now, tending to follow the model of anthropology, increasingly would make the study of works of art an account of the ways different cultures, European and non - European alike, produce art and the ways that their peoples receive and make use of it. The nature of the cultures that produced them, not the judgment of the value of the works of art themselves is increasingly the art historian's concern. The art of no one culture, certainly not that of the West, is to be privileged above another, in the way we view it or give attention to it.