Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Power of Art

"Art is the enemy of the routine, the mechanical and the humdrum. It stops us in our tracks with a high voltage jolt of disturbance; it reminds us of what humanity can do beyond the daily grind. It takes us places we had never dreamed of going; it makes us look again at what we had taken for granted." -Simon Schama

I cannot get over how impressive "Simon Schama's Power of Art" is. The television series is currently airing on PBS (was originally a BBC series back in autumn 2006) and explores the "dramatic turning points in lives of eight artists and the masterpieces that changed the way the world looks at art."

The three episodes that I have been fortunate enough to see are those on Jacques-Louis David's "The Death of Marat," Vincent Van Gogh's "Wheatfiled with Crows," and tonight I saw the episode featuring Joseph Mallord William Turner's "Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On)." My timing in being introduced to this amazing series couldn't have been more perfect. I am particularly fascinated with history around the time of David and Turner (even better, The French Revolution and Slavery), and I love Van Gogh. The other artists featured in this eight part series are: Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Picasso, Bernini, and Rothko. I look forward to seeing the other episodes.

Schama's narrative style, full of intrigue and emotion, really commands this series. He does not routinely explore the artists and their works. Rather, slight (but certainly not overdone) re-enactments, visual stimulation (even better in HD), powerfully and appropriately paired music, and Schama's abrubt and interactive commentary... all work together to tell the stories of these artists and their works. The combination produces a powerful result. I wish I could more effectively convey how powerful this series really is.

I really like this quote of Schama's, above. I have come to feel really moved by art, after years of "not seeing." I remember sitting at the Guggenheim Museum in NYC...surrounded by these amazing works for the first time. It was as though I was feeling emotions I had never been aware of. Again, when I was at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, I felt this swell of emotion and connection, with several paintings in particular. It is so incredible to feel that connection to art, in its various forms (painting, writing, sculpture, music, etc.). I think it signals a connection with humanity. And I don't believe that one comes before the other. I don't believe that we have to (or even that we can) come to feel a connection with humanity on our own before we can appreciate art. I think we have to meet in the middle. Art inspires us and we inspire art.

Amazing series.

6 comments:

Richard said...

While art does not move me, I empathize with the sentiment expressed by Schama.

I think, form my vantage point in life, that what inspires me is less the art and more the simple act of doing.

Even watching Dragon's Den (a entrepreneurial reality TV show) inspires me. Not because it is so difficult to entice the dragons (investors) to part with their money, but because these people are doing something with their dreams.

Unless one is a complete narcissist, the support and encouragement of others is essential.

I will have to see if I can find that show (didn’t find it on my favourite source for shows tv links).

b said...

richard...we are each inspired by different things. i respect and admire the act of doing and in that sense, i guess it does inspire me in a motivational sense.

but art inspires my soul. it evokes emotions so deep and powerful, that transcend "doing" and fully embrace "being."

you may still like some of this series, even if you are not moved by art, as there is also a strong element of history and human condition behind schama's presentation.

Richard said...

Don't get me wrong, I did take a course in modern art in college, but staring at art work is not something I am drawn to.

b said...

richard...haha. staring at art, eh? maybe that is the problem - you are staring but not seeing? :) seriously though, i appreciate that different things inspire people in different ways, or not at all! i don't expect anyone to be moved by a particular thing as i am. sometimes that inclination is there...that disbelief when someone you connect with in many ways does not find inspiration in something as you do. but there is also a beauty in that...individuality.

"For it is the mind which creates the world about us, and even though we stand side by side in the same meadow, my eyes will never see what is beheld by yours, my heart will never stir to the emotions with which yours is touched." -George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecraft. I would also add to that quote that not only does the mind create the world about us, but ultimately, our inner self influences the mind, soul, and body.

Richard said...

I agree that different things motivate different people, which is one reason why I don't try to sell people on what motivates me. I may mention it. I may even use it to express myself, but I have no need to convince people that my way is the only way (it is the only way for me though). Which , of course, begs the question, why do so many people feel the need to impose their preferences on others - whether it is fashion, musical taste, favourite food, etc. Or even worse, conformant behaviour. I never understood why people feel it is their right to police conformity in a group. We can see this in assaults on innocuous people because they are believed to be somehow don't fit in. From my own experience, I remember bringing pita sandwiches for lunch to school and having a guy harass me over what I was eating.

As I have mentioned before, I have no instinctive desire or need to rebel, but, by the same token, I have no instinctive desire or need to conform.

Of course, people snoop all the time and seem to be brazen in divulging information that could only be obtained if they had been spying on you. Sometimes I wonder if people are truly empathic or we confuse tribal allegiance with empathy. With tribal allegiance, we feel what is happening to our core group, but otherwise couldn't care less what is happening to others outside that tribe, whereas empathy should be universal. Again, straying on tangents.

b said...

richard...i think that with conviction comes a sense of urgency. sometimes we have a false sense of necessity to impart our views on others and make them "see" as we do. being closed-minded can also do this in huge ways. people become so convinced of their perspective that they shut out anything else and they defend that perspecitve mercilessly but without.

and yes, even on a smaller scale, such as food preference, clothing, etc. i think that "policing of conformity" or just general closed-mindedness masks deep insecurity.

i am very much the same as far as having no instinctive desire or need to rebel, and no instictive desire or need to conform. i think that is a tremendous achievement in itself. there is a satisfaction with self in that.

always good tangents, so stray away. that is an interesting thought: tribal allegiance vs. utter empathy for humankind. there is a lot behind that. i'll have to ruminate and perhaps post something on that.