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July 13, 2010

"How Art Made the World" (video review)

How Art Made the World: How Humans Made Art and Art Made Us Human
A BBC production presented by Dr. Nigel Spivey

This documentary explores the nature of art and the use of images in the modern world by tracing its origins in ancient history. There are five segments, beginning with "More Human than Human" which takes a look at the representation of the human body today and in the past. Using scientific research on seagulls and figures such as the Venus of Willendorf and the Riace Warriors, Nigel presents innovative theories on the love of exaggeration and unrealistic depictions of the human body. The following segment, "The Day Pictures were Born", utilizes the cave paintings of Altamira, Spain as well as more recent cave paintings in South Africa in the Drakensberg mountains to understand how the human concept of creating images first developed.

"The Art of Persuasion" involves politics and the use of images from Darius' palace at Persepolis and Alexander the Great's advanced idea of a life-like political portrait to the continued use of imagery in the elections of political leaders today. In "Once Upon a Time" Nigel examines the phenomena of film and visual storytelling and its formation from a long tradition ranging from the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal's depictions of himself as the hero Gilgamesh, to Trajan's Column and its visual account of the wars against the Dacians. However Nigel argues it is the Aborigines who first developed the concept so crucial to film, that of the combination of imagery and music.

Finally, the segment "To Death and Back" provides insight on the desire for images of death. Nigel compares photo albums of ancestors to the ancient reconstruction of human skulls to create portraits of the dead, such as the ones found by archaeologists in Jericho. Nigel also examines the other side of death and its more gruesome depictions found in art such as that of the Aztecs and their depictions of sacrificial practices.

Not afraid to use special effects or to get a little silly, "How Art Made the World" is overall an engaging documentary that poses compelling questions about how we understand and employ art.

This video is among the many available to borrow from the Visual Resources Center in the Art, Architecture and Engineering Library. Search for videos in Mirlyn or in our video database.

Posted by rmassare at July 13, 2010 10:52 AM

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