Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Power of Art

PBS has recently been showing a fascinating series that focuses on some of the greatest artists in history. The Power of Art shines a spotlight on the careers and works of 8 famous artists, from Caravaggio’s paintings in the early 1600’s to Philip Rothko’s work in the mid-twentieth century. The library not only has the DVD set, we have the book that accompanies the series. Last night’s star was the sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini, who was a particular favorite of popes and cardinals in the early 17th-century. I’m not a complete artistic cretin, but I do need someone to point out the hallmarks of brilliant technique, the metaphors inherent in the piece, and the history of artistic developments leading up to the work in question. And the series’ creator – Simon Schama – does just that. He is a great blend of Sister Wendy (Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting, which we have on DVD) and James Burke (Connections, which we also have on DVD. This is a series that I recommend highly). His narration is full of information without being overwhelming, his delivery keeps things interesting, and he does a wonderful job of pointing out what makes a great work of art ‘great’. In Bernini’s sculpture of The Rape of Proserpine, for instance, he points out the way Pluto’s hands seem to dig into her thigh, and his hands sink into the flesh of her side. The curls of his beard swing, as she violently shoves his head to one side. If a sculptor can get a chunk of marble to appear as if it were moving at all, let alone moving violently, then that is an amazingly talented sculptor. And Schama is a very talented teacher.

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