People who are cultured have an appreciation for beauty and the finer things in life.
The Russian writer Anton Chekhov once wrote the following: “In order to feel comfortable among educated people, to be at home and happy with them, one must be cultured to a certain extent.” But, what does it mean to be cultured? Here are some possible meanings:
- To be cultured means to be educated.
- Knowing about a variety of subjects.
- Being refined and sophisticated.
- Being curious, unprejudiced, and open-minded.
- Being tolerant and respectful of people who are different from us.
- Living a life of excellence and discernment.
Below you’ll find 20 ways to become cultured:
1. Learn How to Appreciate Art.
Cultured people know how to appreciate art. In order to fully appreciate master paintings, sculptures, prints, and so on, you need to have certain technical skills and knowledge. To be cultured, you should learn how to view art through the lenses of line, light, perspective, composition, and other crucial elements of craft. Here are three ways to do this:
- Take a course, such as How to Look At and Understand Great Art
- Read a book on art appreciation.
- Saturate yourself with art, even if just looking at postcards of great works of art.
2. Recognize the World’s 50 Greatest Paintings.
A cultured person should be able to recognize, identify the artist, and know a little about each of the world’s 50 greatest paintings. Get a book such as 50 Paintings You Should Know, or do some research online.
3. Go to Museums and Art Galleries.
Visit every important museum and art gallery in your city. If you can, expand that to the major museums in your country. Of course, if you can travel to the best museums in the world–including El Prado, the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and so on–that would be ideal.
4. Recognize the World’s 50 Greatest Buildings.
From the Colosseum to the Chrysler Building, you should be able to recognize the world’s greatest buildings. In addition, you should know who built them, when, and the building’s intended purpose. Get started with the world’s 50 greatest buildings.
5. Recognize the World’s 25 Greatest Sculptures.
There are incredible sculptures from all around the world that every cultured person should be able to recognize, from The Winged Victory of Samothrace–also known as the Nike of Samothrace–, to the Leshan Giant Buddha.
Get started with a book such as Sculpture: From Antiquity to the Present Day, or do research online. There’s a good list of great sculptures from around the world here.
6. Read 50 Books From the Canon of Western Literature.
The canon of Western literature is a list of the books that Western scholars generally accept as the most important and influential in shaping Western culture. That is, the books by Western authors that have the greatest artistic merit.
You can find many lists of books that are included in the canon online. This one is found in the appendix to Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. Pick 50 of these books, and read them.
7. Read Authors From 25 Different Countries.
The problem with the canon of Western literature is that it leaves out great books from most of the countries in the world. You can bridge that gap by making sure that you include books from at least 25 different countries in your reading list.
You can use the list of books read by Ann Morgan as a reference. She spent a year reading books from every country in the world. The list of the books she read is here. Pick 25 of them and start going through them.
8. Try Food From 30 Different Countries.
A cultured person has sampled food from many different countries. Although it would be ideal to travel to different places to sample their food, depending on where you live, that’s not essential.
For example, Charles Biblios lives in New York City and is on a mission to try food from every country without leaving NYC. Even you don’t live in a cosmopolitan city, it’s very likely that there are at least a few ethnic restaurants in your city. Make a list of these restaurants and go try them.
9. Develop Religious Literacy.
Religious literacy—the knowledge of basic teachings, symbols, practices, founders, institutions, and values of the world’s major religious traditions—can help us to better understand the world around us.
The world’s major religions are Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In order to find out more about these religions you can do the following:
- Talk to someone who practices the religion you want to know more about and ask them questions.
- Visit their places of worship.
- Find a book you can read which does a good job of summarizing the basic precepts of the religions you want to know more about. One such book is The World’s Religions
- Do some research online.
- Take an online course, such as Cultural Literacy for Religion.
10. Listen to Classical Music.
The music genre that is most often associated with culture is classical music. Begin by listening to, and familiarizing yourself with, the 10 pieces of classical music that everyone should know.
In addition, you can get and listen to The 50 Greatest Pieces of Classical Music.
11. Be Familiar With the World’s 10 Most Important Operas.
Opera and culture go hand in hand. Watching and listening to opera can help us to see, hear, and experience the world more richly. You can get started with Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro).
Although it’s always better to experience opera live, watching it on your TV or laptop will do until you have the opportunity to attend the real thing. Another option is to get yourself a collection of the world’s greatest arias, such as The 50 Greatest Opera Arias.
12. Be Familiar With the World’s 10 Most Important Ballets.
Ballet, like opera, is at the core of culture. When attending a ballet performance you get to listen to some of the most iconic music ever written and watch beautiful choreography.
You can start with Swan Lake by Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky. Like opera, the real thing is best, but watching from home will do.
13. Listen to Music From 35 Different Countries.
Just as you should read books from different countries in order to be cultured, you should also listen to music from different countries. YouTube is a goldmine for finding music from other countries.
You can start by listening to a Tamborito from Panama here.
14. Go to the Theater.
Live performance is an important art form which goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Ideally you would travel to New York to see a Broadway play, or to Shakespeare’s Globe in London to see one of Shakespeare’s plays.
However, you can get started in your own city by attending plays put on by your local theater company or by traveling theatrical groups.
15. Watch Foreign Films.
Foreign films allow you to get a glimpse of life in places you may never visit. It imbues you with a new understanding of foreign traditions and viewpoints. You can get started with “Red”, one of the films that make up Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy.
16. Learn Proper Manners and Etiquette.
I already mentioned Chekhov’s letter to his brother in this blog’s introduction. In said letter Chekhov indicates that cultured people are always kind, gentle, and polite. That is, cultured people are respectful of others.
One way to help ensure that you treat others respectfully is by learning proper manners and etiquette. After all, good manners make things in life smoother and more pleasant for everyone. In addition, the most elegant person in the room is not the one that is best dressed, but the one with the most beautiful manners.
17. Keep Up With Current Events.
A cultured person is aware of what’s happening in the world, economically and politically. For important stories, make sure that you know not just the who, the where, the how, and the when, but also the the why. In addition, come up with your own ideas on what should be done about the situation.
Part of being cultured is being familiar with different parts of the world, and the best way to achieve this is by traveling.
In addition, as Mark Twain once said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” The more you interact with people from other cultures through travel the more you realize that–in the ways that really matter–we’re all pretty much alike.
19. Learn a New Language.
There are many ways in which learning another language will help you to become more cultured. Here are three of them:
- First, you’ll be able to understand cultural references and nuances.
- Second, it helps you to grasp different ways of thinking and life perspectives.
- And third, it allows you to pepper your conversation with foreign words and phrases. This last one is awfully pretentious, but what’s the point of being cultured if you can’t show off once in a while. 🙂
Duolingo is one of the tools I’m using to learn French, and it’s surprisingly good. Choose a language–I would recommend French, since it’s often thought of as the language of culture–and go through all of the modules for that language on Duolingo. When you’re done you won’t be fluent in that language, but you’ll have a good grasp of it.
2o. Memorize Five Poems.
Poems can teach you to think in terms of similes and metaphors, which is one of the hallmarks of intelligence. In addition, they often make reference to history, myth, and literature, which can be useful in familiarizing yourself with these subjects. Finally, great poems are filled with rich language and emotion.
Pick five poems you like, and memorize them. A fun one to try is Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll (which I memorized in the 5th grade and have never forgotten). Here’s a simple procedure for memorizing poems.
Become cultured and live your best life by learning to appreciate the finer things in life. You can get started with the 20 suggestions outlined above.