Thursday, June 29, 2006
BBC production examines the 'why' of art: "'How Art Made the World' may sound like a grandiose title, but the five-part series makes some good arguments in support of that saucy assertion.
Co-producers public television station KCET and the BBC reject the predictable chronological format of 'who did what when' and focus on the question 'Why?' Why are representations of the human body frequently so unrealistic? Why do abstract patterns appear in prehistoric cave paintings? Why do humans create images of death?
The episodes visit sites both remote and spectacular on several continents (Asia is not represented, but that's a longer series) to explore the earliest known examples of artistic expression. They couple those objects -- which range from figurines to temples -- with the latest thinking of not only art historians and archaeologists but of psychologists and neuroscientists.
Highlights of some of the episodes are cave and rock paintings in Europe, Africa and North America, presented with evidence that their abstract patterning derives from trance states, and the filming of such a ritual; works commissioned by the likes of King Darius of Persia, Alexander the Great, and the Roman Augustus for political empowerment and propaganda; a first-century Greek grotto with digitally re-created statues depicting a dramatic scene from Homer's "Odysseus"; an Australian aboriginal storytelling ceremony that amplifies the impact of archetypal painted images; and an Etruscan tomb wherein heavenly and hellish scenes of the afterlife encourage self-sacrifice for the common good over surrender."