Simon Schama’s “Power of Art”

Last week I started watching the “Power of Art” on PBS. I haven’t read the book (though I intend to) and have only seen the 3 episodes that PBS has shown (which is out of order from the original way it was aired on the BBC), Van Gogh, Picasso and Caravaggio.

Power of Art

I am fascinated. I have no background, zero, zip, nada in any kind of art history. Not even a single class, ever, so anything I know about art I have learned through self study. For me, Schama is bringing to life some of the most fascinating western artists in a very different way than a traditional biography. The focus on a single work in each episode is a great summing up of what seems to be at the heart of that particular artist. “David With the Head of Goliath” by Caravaggio is real and disturbing, but even more so when the man behind the brush and his sensationally troubled life is revealed.

I really enjoyed the episode on Van Gogh. I think most people just assume he was the artistic nut who cut off his ear and had some sort of dependent relationship with his brother. But he was so much more than that (and thanks to Schama, I now know that it was just part of his ear, and not the whole darn thing), his art was his sanity and through it we can see how he saw the world.

Not only am I getting great info on these artists and what drove them to create the work they did, but I’m also thinking a bit more on the whole idea of how and why artists are driven to create. And how an artist grows and changes in their work because of the events happening in their lives and their personal relationships and interactions with those around them, as well as with the creative society in which they are a part of.

As I sat on my couch and thought about these things something else occurred to me. Something about those of us who read and participate in the Ragged Cloth Cafe. We’re all on the cutting edge of what could be it’s own artistic movement…perhaps to be categorized and studied in a hundred years by art historians. Textile art is realatively new, as an art form, and not just a craft form, and those working in textiles have the power (see, I’m tying this into “Power of Art”, not just rambling!) to say so much, not only visually, but with the choice of medium.

Just a small thing to think on.

I’ll be watching each episode of “Power of Art” and enjoying learning about the artists, their work, and the power it had for them, their world and for us. And I will more conscious each time I step into my studio of how my own art has a power for me and for those who may see it in the future. I hope that everyone else will also be more conscious of this power, if you’re not already.

Hopefully you’re all watching “Power of Art”!

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2 Responses to “Simon Schama’s “Power of Art””


  1. 1 clairan July 1, 2007 at 8:09 pm

    Mandi,

    When is this series on? I haven’t been able to find it in Chicago. . .but I don’t get TV Guide or anything.

  2. 2 June June 28, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    Mandi,

    I too have watched the Schama on Art episodes. I am something of a Schama fan — I’ve read 2 1/2 books by him, which amounts to something like 1200 pages. His best, for me, was “Rembrandt’s Eyes.” He’s great on putting the art into context — a historian rather than an art critic, I think. The biographical/historical context is what he focuses on in these TV episodes.

    That said, I was a bit disappointed in his portrayal of Caravaggio. I thought he probably thought up his final lines (about Caravaggio’s self-portrait as the severed head of Goliath) and then had to make the rest of the hour fit that theme.

    He was better on Van Gogh and Picasso.

    But he is excellent on Rembrandt and Rubens in “Rembrandt’s Eyes.” There he has the leisure to lay out what the Dutch were up to in the 16th and 17th century — a lot, as it turned out — which is why they could afford to be such great patrons of the arts. Of course, you have to have lots of time to make your way through that book — he does go on and on and on.

    Caravaggio was really an amazing painter. There’s no one like him — his “stories”, his “characters.” Amazing. And the way his paintings extend right into your face, out of the frame. All this while presumably painting for an audience that was accustomed to a certain amount of homage and piety. Pious, he wasn’t.

    I like the array of paintings that Schama brings to the series, too. It’s always a great joy to see new ones as well as to revisit ones I was familiar with. His (Schama’s)take on Picasso’s Guernica is very interesting.

    So thanks for this post.


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