Thursday, April 25, 2024

Art, architecture, music, and philosophy

I watched Civilization when it first aired on PBS. I watched it in B&W because I did not yet have a color TV. I was enthralled. I am getting a Blu-ray version right now fearing that the series in its original form may not always be available. From The Spectator:
'What is Civilisation? I don’t know. I can’t definite it in abstract terms – yet. But I think I can recognise it when I see it; and I am looking at it now.’ So suggested Kenneth Clark, looking towards Notre Dame at the start of Civilisation, his magisterial televisual guide through Western art, architecture, and philosophy. .... Now, more than fifty years since its creation, the BBC has decided its viewers need protecting from this ‘personal view’.

It suggests the programme does not necessarily accord with Auntie’s current ‘standards and attitudes’, and further undermines it by placing alongside it a new segment by Mary Beard lamenting the ‘posh’ Clark’s Euro-centrism.

The former can be begrudgingly accepted, since it has previously been applied to other programmes from the BBC archives, including an interview with Martin Luther King Jr. But the latter sticks in the craw. ....

Reading the Victorian critic [John Ruskin] had convinced Clark that art should be accessible to everyone. Civilisation was the embodiment of his life’s work. It never talks down to its viewers. Clark contentedly left minutes devoid of commentary, allowing those watching to bask in the magnificence of whichever cathedral or piece of music he had chosen. You are free to enjoy the beauty without interruption.

...Clark wholeheartedly believed in individual genius and Christianity’s role as ‘the chief creative force in western civilisation’. Neither is in vogue today. Looking at the monstrosities that litter our cities and galleries, one can’t help but find Clark’s traditionalism appealing. ....

At the end of the series, Clark maintains that it is ‘a lack of confidence, more than anything else, that kills a civilisation’. A national broadcaster that feels challenged enough by a fifty-year old programme not to let it air without some form of warning or lecture cannot be said to be that. But as Civilisation proves, great art endures, even as fashions shift – and idle posturing can never substitute for good taste.

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