No musty odor or sleep-inducing pontificating plagues this art lesson, if Judge Brett Cullum's rapt expression is any indication.
How humans made art and art made us human.
How Art Made the World sat in my pile of DVDs to review for a while, because I was waiting for a time when I felt in the mood for a lecture on art. Imagine my amazement when I popped in the disc and was hooked in under five minutes. It's not a lecture on art; it's a fascinating study on why we see things the way we do. How Art Made the World is an excellent miniseries from the BBC which absolutely flies by in a mass of erudite and witty conversations on what it means to be on planet Earth. The host of the show is Dr. Nigel Spivey of Cambridge University, a charming English gentleman who is strangely charismatic and knows how to ask the right questions at the proper time. He makes the material pop, and you walk out of the show with a wealth of knowledge but also having been truly entertained and fascinated. This is a documentary DVD set to track down and watch immediately.
How Art Made the World is divided in to six episodes which explore topics from why we find unrealistic human forms alluring to how images of death comfort and fascinate us. The show always begins in the modern world looking at every day surroundings, such as subway stations or even cinemas, and then Spivey takes us back in time to the origins of whatever he is talking about. The primitive mixes easily with the cutting edge, and thousands of years of cultural development makes sense by the end of it. The show relates artistic images to basic human needs, and makes the subject accessible to anyone. You don't need a love of art, just a curiosity of why people are what they are. You will see some of the most amazing works of art ever assembled, but the art is always secondary to the human condition that informed it.
The BBC DVD set for How Art Made the World is packaged simply with two discs holding the episodes and a smattering of extra features. The show is displayed in a widescreen TV friendly ratio, and the picture is clear and well delivered. The stereo mix for the sound is appropriately austere with a minimal amount of fuss emphasizing function. The sole extras are comprised of behind the scenes footage of the making of the series as well as an interview with Dr. Spivey and producer Mark Hedgecoe. The behind the scenes footage is divided up in to four chapters addressing the location and how they shot a sequence at an archeological dig in the desert. The interview about the series talks about how they wanted to bring a scary complex subject to a broad audience. Spivey had originally wanted to author a book, but he was convinced television could allow him to get his message out more easily by exploiting the form.
The series is one of the most compelling group of shows you'll find on DVD. Politics, religion, sex, and violence are all traced through art and cultural movements. Complex subjects are reduced to base instinct making the high concept seem common. You'll be accused of being far too smart if you give these 290 minutes a whirl, and your friends will sit there slack jawed as you explain why they love the images they love. This is the kind of documentary that I find irresistible—entertaining, moving, and informative all at once. It addresses what all great art does in that it explores the joys and sorrows of the human condition and how we express it.
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