Civilisations

What do I think of Western civilization? I think it would be a very good idea.Mahatma Gandhi  (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/mahatma_gandhi_141784 accessed 29.05.2018)

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mini-temple contrasted from rubbish gathered over 6 weeks from around a village could be seen at the Meeting Point area of the Hay On Wye Literary Festival 2018

Of the new programmes it is written …

Presented by Simon Schama, Mary Beard and David Olusoga, Civilisations explores the visual culture of societies from around the globe, revealing alongside the magnificent objects made in the West the wealth of treasures created by other cultures, from the landscape scrolls of classical China and the sculpture of the Olmecs to African bronzes, Japanese prints and Mughal miniatures.” BBC website 29.05.2018

I was interested by this programme having seen some of the older version, Civilisation presented by Kenneth Clarke in 1967, as well as being alerted to the newer version by a tutor from the OCA.

The first talk I attended at Hay-On-Wye about Civilisations was a discussion with Simon Schama and David Olusoga who were two of the series authors, about the making of this series; it considered the ideas, the art works, the locations and the way it reached millions of viewers. Mary Beard, the other author, did not appear; she was reported to have said at the beginning of the series “A woman, a black and a Jew … what could possibly go wrong!?!!” The series producer also joined and the event was chaired by writer and broadcaster, Clemency Burton-Hill.
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the auditorium before the speakers entered

Was it possible to reconstruct the epic series of Kenneth Clarke? Needed to be global not Western. The BBC decided to employ three people partly for practical reasons; there would have been too much travelling for one person.
The new series was not an attempt to replicate the old one. As Mary Beard writes, “This was an attempt to not ‘re-make’ Clarke’s original version, but to take a fresh look at its themes with a much wider frame of reference, moving outside Europe …
Schama said something at the very beginning  of the series about his love of history for … “What is the present if not an …. ????” He immediately felt able to respond to the BBC request and is responsible for 5 of the 9 programmes. He says … “We are the art making animal … “
Palmyra is significant because it stands at a cross roads being neither East or West or belonging to a particular religion. Kenneth Clarke’s Civilisation is a masterpiece but establishment orientated. Today we are a global community!
When younger, David Olusoga saw how TV could make history and found this life changing! He saw Civilisations as an awesome task yet understands TV to be very good at communicating art
History of art not just a history of artists also about viewers says Mary Beard; “E.H.Gombrich, once wrote ‘There is no such thing as art, only artists.’ I am putting the viewers of art back into the frame. Mine is not a ‘Great Man’ view of art history, with all its usual heroes and geniuses.
Schama not so geared towards art as being socially oriented.
Nine episodes are not enough for a history of world art so each episode an essay on an aspect of it
Art wants to go beyond “white noise” of news; a resistance to the fatigue of the everyday News of the day translated into a more epic timeless context as with Ai Wei Wei’s artwork of rubber men in boat from 2017, an imaging of refugees who try to escape by boat.
While I personally have not met anyone who seems much interested in Civilisations, it has attracted a lot of interest and feedback. Already almost 3 million people watched it on iPlayer TV! It can unlock the world of art, illustrating more than 500 works of art which are explored.
After the talk, I chat with my friend Moray about the Civilisations programme but like many others he is not enthusiastic about it. The series is not easy watching, there is a lot of information being communicated and it is difficult to absorb it all. One might say it is more academic than Clarke’s version.
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In the late afternoon, Simon Schama also gives a leading talk at festival which starts with clip about art from Civilisations and is largely concerned with the series. He did not want to write a book to accompany because issues too vast; his associates both did books.
Talks about Chinese art in which Clarke was also interested though his program focused on Europe minus Spain. He also discusses artwork from Mughal era.
Where art and love meet is what survives of us.
Creativity our last stand!
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Likes Tacita Dean who has three exhibitions showing in London presently,  for her use of film rather than video as film has texture!
Art appreciation can now be purely financial with work purchased for sale later. Schama refers to a Jeff Koons artwork as “utter shit” which of course brings laughter.
The programmes have been described as warm and cuddly, The Guardian view of art across the globe; this is one criticism that Schama disputes.
Questioner says so much about context in academia that one can no longer express one’s feelings about works of art. Schama says contemporary theory has reacted to previous connoisseurship.
After the talk, there is dinner with my friends (Moray, Julie and Sarah) as well as Julie, one of my mother’s carers also a friend, before we all go to see a concert, Amazones Afriques. This is inspirational music and while some of the audience leave perhaps because of the noise, I get up to dance along with others. Someone spills their G&T over Julie the carer but she laughs it off as usual.
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It is gone 10 o’clock before Julie and I clamber into the car and drive back to Somerset, a drive that takes over two hours.

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