I’ve recently been watching Simon Schama’s series, “The Power of Art.” Wow. Even though I am a huge fan of Schama’s work (Landscape and Memory remains one of my favourite books of all time), I have to admit that I was a little reluctant to give “The Power of Art” a chance. I knew Schama would do a good job of presenting the artists and artworks selected for the series, but I guess I felt a little uncomfortable with the selection of artists. They are all “dead white guys,” the canon revisited. “Haven’t these guys been given enough press?” was my initial response. Upon reflection I can see that was precisely the point — Schama is asking us to consider just why it is that these artists (Caravaggio, Bernini, Rembrandt, David, Turner, Van Gogh, Picasso and Rothko) have fascinated so many. Schama’s characteristic style coupled with some amazing cinematography (I can only imagine the size of the budget for these), makes for some pretty interesting viewing.
On a related note, Damien Hirst has had a good week. Hirst gets a lot of criticism for what he does, and may argue that what he does is not “art.” On a conceptual level I get his work, and I think his work brings a lot to debates regarding the meaning and function of art in contemporary society. However, what I simply can not accept is his continued exploitation of animal bodies. I guess if people are willing to pay millions of dollars for these pieces he has little incentive to stop.