Civilizations season 1
Civilizations season 1 episodes list:
he first film by Simon Schama looks at the formative role art and the creative imagination have played in the forging of humanity itself. The film opens with Simon's passionate endorsement of the creative spirit in humanity and the way in which art can help to forge the civilised life. Civilisation may be impossible to define, but its opposite - evidenced throughout history in the human urge to destroy - is all too evident whenever and wherever it erupts. Simon Schama explores the remote origins of human creativity with the first known marks made some 80,000 years ago in South African caves - marks which were not dictated merely by humanity's physical needs. He marvels at the later cave works - shapes of hands, in red stencils on the walls of caves, and at the paintings of bison and bulls, and Stone Age carvings. As time passes, the elements of civilisation are assembled - written language, codes of law, and expressions of warrior power forged in metals. And humanity begins to produce art not just for ritual, as Simon discovers in Minoan civilisation. But how do such cultures arise and how do they fall? Simon travels to the civilisations of Petra in the Middle East and the Maya in Central America to explore those questions. He finds that ultimately civilisations depend on humanity's relationship with the environment for their survival, and while all believe in their own continuity, all are doomed to fall.
In this episode of Civilisations, Professor Mary Beard explores images of the human body in ancient art, from Mexico and Greece to Egypt and China. Mary seeks answers to fundamental questions at the heart of ideas about civilisations. Why have human beings always made art about themselves? What were these images for? And in what ways do some ancient conventions of representing the body still affect us now? In raising these questions, Mary explores how the way we look can influence our ideas of what is civilised. The colossal prehistoric Olmec heads in Mexico set the scene. In a culture with no written record, all we can do is puzzle about what these images were for, whom they represented, and why they were constructed. Mary Beard moves to other ancient cultures where more evidence has survived. She looks at images that are far more than art objects - images from Egyptian statues to the terracotta warriors of ancient China that actively participate in the social world, that teach men and women how to behave, that assert power and assuage loss. Mary explores what makes a 'realistic' image of the human form. She looks at the 'Greek Revolution', the extraordinary process in the sixth and fifth centuries BCE, which saw the sculpture of the human body dramatically change from a series of static formulaic images to what we now take as living naturalism. Mary shows that Greek ideas of the human form influence the way we look to this day.
This episode broaches the controversial and divisive topic of religion and art, from antiquity to the present day. We travel the world’s temples, churches, mosques and ancient and symbolic sites through religions including Hinduism, Buddism, Christianity and Islam. We look at the void that Christianity filled following the collapse of the Roman Empire and the growing scepticism about the older pagan gods, as we explore the role it played in changing the nature of religious art in the West and Near East. And we look at how modern artists embrace religious themes, searching to find a spiritual art relevant to the modern age.
In the late 1400s, technological advances in seafaring and a thirst for trade conspired to send human beings around the planet further and faster than they'd ever been before. The result was that distant and disparate cultures met for the very first time. It provoked wonder, awe, bafflement and fear. From the magnificent Benin bronzes, recording a relationship of mutual respect and exchange to the Japanese Shogunate famously bringing down the shutters and cutting ties with the outside world for over 300 years, this episode explores the way that initial encounters can produce a unique array of art.
In many European minds, the word Renaissance evokes ideas about the radical transformation in thought and art that took place in Italy starting in the 1400s. But in the 15th and 16th centuries the great Islamic empires experienced their own extraordinary cultural flowering and the two did not unfold in separate artistic universes. This episode goes to both east and west: to Papal Rome, Mughal India and to Ottoman Istanbul exploring these connections and rivalries.
This episode explores how cultures have depicted the natural world in landscape painting throughout history. We investigate the way that landscape painting is created as a response to the world around us, exploring such ideas as paradise, identity and the depiction of the vastness of nature to oppositional to industrialization. We explore landscape photography, from Ansel Adams’ majestic depictions of Yosemite, to modern photography and a new kind of landscape which explores the cosmic sublime.
In this episode we explore the roles that color and light have played in the formation of art throughout history. We explore the background of the European use of color and the masterpieces which embraced the radiance of gems and silks, from the use of brilliant colors like ultramarine and vermillion, through to the development of obsession with light and shade. We explore the influences of east on west, and vice versa – and the notions of lack of color in western art, from Goya to Kapoor.
This episode is about the "Progress" as an ideology, and how the "civilizing" project that arose from Enlightenment ideas was fraught with contradictions. During a time when many artists turned to non-Western art and culture for inspiration, artists like Albert Bierstadt, George Catlin and Gottfried Lindauer’s captured very different representations of the relationship between Europeans and indigenous subjects. We explore how some artist followed in the footsteps of American Civil War photographers; with photojournalists like Jacob Riis turning the camera lens on the urban poor to help turn photography into a documentary art.
The last episode in the series explores the fate of art in the machine and profit-driven world and asks: should art create a realm separate from the modern world, or should it plunge headlong into the chaos while transforming the way we see and live in it? Using the works of artists of the 20th and 21st Century, including Ai Weiwei, Kara Walker, Andy Warhol and Anselm Kiefer, we seek answers to these profound questions. The conclusion is imbued with the hope that art still offers civilization an insight into the incomprehensibility of the world and a way to transcend its horrors with the enduring creativity of the human spirit.