How Art Made the World
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How Art Made the World (Dbl DVD)
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.]]>
As part of BBCs 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 Mesopotamias 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
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Top Customer Reviews
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?
Ep.3: The Art of Persuasion - The role of visual art throughout human history to organise and mobilise society; to persuade, to propagandise, to lie. From its earliest use by Darius of Persia, through Alexander the Great, to Caesar Augustus, to the modern spin-meisters of Bush and Blair.
Ep.4: Once Upon A Time - The role of visual art in story-telling, from its earliest beginnings as carved scenes on the Palace walls of King Ashurbanipal in Nineveh, to the marble statues of Classical Greece, to the epic carvings on Trajan's Column, to the Hollywood spectacles of today. Includes a fascinating reappraisal of Australian Aboriginal art, seen in its cultural context as a blend of picture, story, music and dance and how one element cannot be divorced from the other, making it one of mankind's earliest forerunners to the modern film.
Ep.5: To Death and Back - Humanity's fear and fascination with death and how we utilise art in an attempt to conquer it. How images of death are used to gird a society under external threat. Examines the significance of ancient images of death. Compares Christian iconography with ancient Aztec and Incan representations of death.
One criticism is that Spivey is at times too emphatic in his conclusions. What he proposes may certainly be true but we cannot be sure of that (reasons for people producing distorted human imagery - the meaning of paleolithic paintings - the role of death in art). What we can say is that they are valid conclusions in the light of present knowledge. Still as an entry point for the lay audience, it is an excellent series. And Spivey certainly charges the viewer with his sheer enthusiasm.
The series is shot in 1.78:1 widescreen and presented as such on DVD (enhanced for widescreen TV). Picture quality is excellent. Photography is often stunning. Sound is in front-centered, crystal clear, 2.0 Dolby Surround. Optional English subtitles are provided. Extras include a 5-minute long interview with Spivey and Mark Hedgecoe on the series, as well as roughly 12 minutes worth of footage on shooting at the Gobekli Tepe archaeological site in modern Turkey. This series is accompanied by a fully illustrated companion book written by Nigel Spivey available separately from BBC Press.
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. Nowadays, we are more concerned with obesity and overpopulation, so we find the gaunt form attractive. The tendency to exaggerate favored characteristics is a conscious aesthetic decision, no hardwiring needed.
In the part on death - comparing comforting and frightening images of death through the ages - it is said that people - even children - feel bad when someone dies because they're worried about their own death. That is an unwarranted generalization. I think most people feel bad because they miss the person who died, or worry about losing someone else. If children are concerned about their own death, I think it is because they are reminded of a previous death, as in the end of a previous lifetime. The spiritual aspect of these subjects is completely neglected in this series.
Nevertheless, it is worth watching for its unique approach to art history, and the relating of various periods and cultures. Just fast forward through the psychobabble.