Marja-Leena Rathje
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Power of Art series

Picasso's Guernica

This looks to be very exciting: Simon Schama's The Power of Art series is beginning tonight on PBS TV in North America.

The power of the greatest art is the power to shake us into revelation and rip us from our default mode of seeing. After an encounter with that force, we don't look at a face, a colour, a sky, a body, in quite the same way again. We get fitted with new sight: in-sight. Visions of beauty or a rush of intense pleasure are part of that process, but so too may be shock, pain, desire, pity, even revulsion. That kind of art seems to have rewired our senses. We apprehend the world differently.

Art that aims that high - whether by the hand of Caravaggio, Van Gogh or Picasso - was not made without trouble and strife. Of course there has been plenty of great art created in serenity, but the popular idea that some masterpieces were made under acute stress with the artist struggling for the integrity of the conception and its realisation is not a "romantic myth" at all. A glance at how some of the most transforming works got made by human hands is an encounter with "moments of commotion".

It's those hot spots in which great risks were taken that The Power of Art brings you. Instead of trying to reproduce the un-reproducible feeling you have when you are face to face with those works in the hush of the gallery or a church, the series (and the book) drops you instead into those difficult places and unforgiving dramas when the artists managed, against the odds, to astound.

- from the BBC site for Schama's The Power of Art. It was shown in the UK last fall.

Artists featured in the series are Van Gogh, Picasso, Caravaggio, Bernini, Rembrandt, David, Turner and Rothko. More at this PBS page, and here are some short video previews.

Check your local schedules, please. I am really hoping that the Vancouver print TV schedule is correct that the first two parts will be aired at 9 and 10 pm tonight, coming from Seattle, as I've been getting conflicting information online. I'll program the VCR in any case.

Thanks for the alerts from Art Biz Blog and Art for a Change.

UPDATE 9:00pm. Dang! It's not on here. Looking at the PBS site again, I think it's offered only on digital stations at this time. I'll have to keep my eyes out for when and if it appears on plain cable. I'd love to hear from readers who do see this program.

Marja-Leena | 18/06/2007 | 10 comments
themes: Being an Artist, Films, Other artists


Thank You for the tip. Looking forward to watching it.

Cathy - I hope you were able to see it! What did you think of it?

Shucks... maybe you can find it online?

Erika, I checked but I think the emphasis is on selling DVDs and the book right now.

It was on the Detroit PBS station at 7:00 and 8:00. I couldn't find it on the Seattle station. I only got to watch the first one on Van Gogh. It looks like a great series.

Hi Howard! I'm glad you saw some of it and hope you'll get to see a few more. We don't get the Detroit PBS because we subscribe to basic cable only. We rarely watch TV so it seems costly even for that minimum. At rare times like this I wish we had more. Thanks for dropping by and commenting!

I can't stand Schama, so mannered in his delivery, always looking for the sensational in any approach to history. He's becoming an industry now. Give me Robert Hughes any day. I saw the Van Gogh & the Caravaggio and liked neither. So there.

Anna, good to hear that! I only saw the mini clips so could not tell. One thing that annoyed me was the blatantly Eurocentric, male-dominated view, again! Maybe that's why my interest has moved to cave art and that of so-called primitive societies, especially in lesser known parts of the world. But I was still annoyed that I could not see and judge it for myself, but now feel better, thanks to you.

Marja - I enjoy the shows. Picasso was excellent. Looking forward to the Rothko show.

Cathy - I'm glad you enjoyed them!