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How Art Made the World

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How Art Made the World + Simon Schama's Power of Art + ART OF THE WESTERN WORLD
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Product Details

  • Actors: Nigel Spivey, David Attenborough, George Miller
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: BBC Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: August 1, 2006
  • Run Time: 290 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,061 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "How Art Made the World" on IMDb

Special Features

  • Behind the scenes footage
  • Interview with presenter Dr. Nigel Spivey and producer Mark Hedgecoe

Editorial Reviews


As part of BBC’s agenda to generate public awareness about art history's relevance to contemporary culture, the documentary series How Art Made the World is a landmark. Host Dr. Nigel Spivey, a Classical Archaeology professor from Cambridge, asserts, over five episodes, that not only have cultures thrived according to their abilities to communicate visually, but also that, though art, we can historically trace human needs and desires because our minds drive us to create images. Questioning how and why art influences society, Spivey employs art criticism, archaeology, political theory, and anthropology in order to posit theories in each hour-long segment. Episode one, "More Human than Human," traces our obsession with the human body by analyzing the Venus of Willendorf, Egyptian art, and Ancient Greece's preoccupation with athleticism. "The Day Pictures Were Born" discusses the birth of cave painting. "The Art of Persuasion" contextualizes Tony Blair and George Bush's political communication strategies with those in ancient cultures. "To Death and Back" ponders our preoccupation with death. "Once Upon A Time," the highlight in the series, insightfully connects our fascination with feature films to the cultural beginnings of storytelling. Starting with Mesopotamia’s birth of the written tale, the Grecian invention of theater, and the Assyrian invention of pictorial narrative, this episode also stars BBC champion, David Attenborough, discussing the Australian Aborigine's use of art to trigger ancient cultural memories and myths. Potent, smart, and interdisciplinary, this series, filmed mostly on-location for full-effect, really does prove that culture dictates art. --Trinie Dalton

Product Description

Why does our world look like it does? That great modern mystery is spectacularly unraveled in this international landmark series and epic quest across five continents and 100,000 years?via some of the greatest treasures of the ancient world?to the heart of human creativity. Encompassing everything from cave paintings to ceramics and pyramids to palaces, How Art Made the World probes the global trend for unrealistic depictions of the human body; the secret powers of the feature film; how politicians manage to manipulate people so easily; visions of death and the afterlife; and, crucially, why we use imagery at all.

Customer Reviews

Picture quality is excellent.
I highly recommend this series to anyone who teaches to high school or college students in art appreciation classes.
Roger Eriksen
Nigel Spivey presents each civilization in a way that all understand and can relate to.
N. Blume

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

91 of 94 people found the following review helpful By dooby on September 11, 2006
Format: DVD
This 5-part BBC documentary series (2005) is a fascinating look at why humans developed representational imagery or visual art, and how visual art has shaped the world we live in today. It's a topic that has been tackled before but here we see it from an archaeological as well as socio-anthropological perspective (Dr Nigel Spivey is a lecturer in both Classical Art and Archaeology at Cambridge University). His views are buttressed with insights from neuroscientists and psychologists. The focus is purely on the visual arts and centres on ancient and prehistoric art. It tackles broad questions such as why humans want or need to create visual images, why especially images of humans and why the predilection for distorted forms? Why humanity sees the need to represent death in art. How visual art is used for social and political purposes. How visual art has been refined to be the storytelling medium par excellence. It is meant for the lay audience and is easily accessible even to the uninitiated. Spivey is a captivating host and puts his ideas across clearly and succinctly.

The 5 episodes (58 mins each) are:
Ep.1: More Human than Human - Why have humans felt the need to create visual representations of themselves and specifically why indulge in distortions of the human form? Is this hardwired in the human brain? What can we learn from modern studies in neuroscience?
Ep.2: The Day Pictures Were Born - What might have been the reasons for the Paleolithic cave paintings of Altamira and Lascaux? What can the the more recent cave paintings left by the San bushman in the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa tell us? What have studies into altered states of consciousness taught us and how is this applicable to our understanding of the cave paintings?
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By E. Karasik on July 5, 2007
Format: DVD
While I agree with other reviewers that some of the conclusions and connections made in this ambitious series risk being overstated and oversimplified, there is so much fascinating material here, so magnificently presented, that I would hate to discourage anyone from seeing this extraordinary achievement. I was utterly in awe of the production values -- the attention to detail in terms of framing scenes with stunning natural landscapes, dynamic (including computer-enhanced) art direction, strategic use of archival footage, and making generous use of experts from multiple disciplines. The filmmakers here have cleverly applied many of the theories they discuss on what makes art effective and persuasive to making the documentary itself extremely compelling, from having the camera linger with mesmerizing intensity on the world's most dramatic images, shifting points of view to maintain interest, and employing dramatic tension to advance the narrative. While Dr. Spivey is a highly charismatic and erudite presenter, the way his rugged good looks and toned physique are exploited, in the semiotic context of this particular film, occasionally made me laugh out loud. Nonetheless, this series, which is somewhat reminiscent of Bill Moyers's wonderful interviews with Joseph Campbell, is a rare and visionary achievement, marrying the disciplines of art history, archeology, anthropology, psychology, and neuroscience, to give us a transcendent view of the way art both reflects and molds human culture.
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82 of 97 people found the following review helpful By Louise Marquis on November 1, 2006
Format: DVD
This is an examination of various aspects of art - depiction of human form, origins of painting, storytelling, art of persuasion, depictions of death - and connecting their origins to today. Interesting stuff. It is visually stunning, and presented in a dramatic way that is entertaining.

One of the most interesting parts was the section on Gobekli Tepe, in Turkey, where huge engraved pillars were erected 12,000 years ago. This was the same time and place where wheat was first cultivated, and people moved from hunting/gathering to farming. The theory presented was that the agricultural endeavor was begun in order to feed the thousands involved in building and enjoying these decorated pillars. This differs from the usual assumption that people went where the food was and then culture developed. Intriguing.

My issue with this series is the unquestioning acceptance of brain theories in some of their analyses. People in unrelated cultures made figurines of the female form with rotund bellies and breasts, and minimized other features. Baby birds whose mothers have red stripes on them peck at sticks with red stripes painted on them. Therefore, a brain expert declares, it is hardwired in our brains to exaggerate certain characteristics. Where is the evidence that it has anything to do with the brain? And what does "hardwired in our brains" mean, exactly? It always amazes me when silly theories are accepted without question because they are expressed with an air of authority by an "expert". It is not surprising that unrelated people in harsh environments, where starvation and racial extinction were real concerns, would make a fetish of the female form looking well fed, pregnant and laden with milk.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Random Feature on December 5, 2006
Format: DVD
Rather than a sweeping history of art this film excels at discussing a few fascinating subjects including the 25,000 year old Venus von Willendorf, 3,000 years of unchanging art in Egypt, Greek sculpture and their fascination with the body, the 12,000 year old Goblecki Tepe which far predates Stonehenge, and cave paintings. Also discussed but less interesting is how kings and politicians have used images to convey their power, and how images of death are used both to terrify and reassure. Subjects usually found in an art history book such as the Renaissance, Baroque, and modern art are not mentioned at all.

Some of the conclusions presented are not well supported and seem contrived. However there are enough fascinating subjects to make this well worth watching.
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