In a mildly amusing case of “it’s the holidays so we’re all listing into our hobbies”, I both watched the eight part, Simon Schama-hosted Power of Art series, and received a parodic video of him, posted below.
The series takes ColumbiaYale Art History professor across the…well…into a few western European countries, and Malta, to examine the social/intellectual/individual historical context for the construction of eight “powerful” art works. These works are ostensibly powerful because they go beyond the conventional role of art as “beauty” (or even, art as unbeautiful) and transcend into the space art can occupy as historical actor. (I made a short list during one of the episodes: to comment on injustice, to evoke people to feel (?), to change the conventions of art, to instruct…these are the roles art can play.)
Although works are the focus, artists’ names are the titles of parts of the series, and we get (in order): Caravaggio, Bernini, Rembrant, David, Turner, Van Gogh, Picasso and Rothko. The biggest disappointments were David and Rothko. The former’s narrative tries to address art’s power as state propaganda, but the similar content found in Picasso’s narrative is far more effective (although his politics are not up for dispute). The piece on Rothko aims to address art’s love/hate relationship with fame and success, but one really wishes the narrative weren’t so buried in a masculinist and psychologizing portrait of the man. While Warhol would be an easy choice, Basquiat a slightly more interesting one, and perhaps Francis Bacon, or Banksky the most interesting of all (I’m sticking with the contemporary & British bias to the series…it is BBC, after all), Rothko’s commissioned pieces for the Seagram building doesn’t stand up to the rhetorical needs of the epic battle between art and money.
The best in the series were Turner (whose works I dislike, but whose eventual descent into what looks like expressionism was unknown to me, and interesting), and Caravaggio, who might be the criminal I’d most like to invite to dinner.
I’m sure there are more able critics than I who have taken on the series, and I don’t have the desire to flush them out of the internet, but you might. And you might want to watch the series. Although this parody is not a good advertisement. It picks up on two funny ticks of Dr. Schama: the head bobbling and use of empty, hyperbolic comparisons in the form of the parallel construction.
P. S. Sorry about the sound, but I didn’t make it.
P.P.S. Is this one of the kids from Vampire Weekend?