I do not follow the television listings and am dependent on Bonnie to find us interesting programs to watch. She is highly selective, and I have full confidence in her choices. Her latest great find is Simon Schama's Power of Art, which is running this summer on PBS stations.
At this point, we have seen four of the eight episodes, each of which focuses on a different artist and a masterpiece that transformed the world of art. Episode One tells how Vincent Van Gogh came to paint Wheatfield with Crows (1890), which Schama claims is the first work of modern art. When the British host is not on screen, Van Gogh's career is dramatized by actors. The artist walks the streets, drinks with friends, writes to his brother Theo, visits prostitutes, and, of course, paints in the French countryside. The result is an art documentary that could draw viewers away from lurid reality shows on MTV.
In the second episode, the historian tells about how Pablo Picasso became political and painted Guernica (1937) after the slaughter of the Spanish Civil War. The self portrait within the painting David with the Head of Goliath (1610) by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio and the passion within the sculpture The Ecstasy of St. Theresa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini followed in Episodes Three and Four. Both Caravaggio and Bernini attack people with knives. These lives of artists are not for elementary school art appreciation show-and-tell.
Is that blood on the DVD box?
We are awaiting episodes about Rembrandt, David, Turner, and Rothko.
The Power of Art is available in a three discs DVD set. As a librarian trying to build a nonfiction collection, I wish each episode were on a separate discs, so eight students could borrow the episodes for their assignments at the same time. Still, it looks like a great set for public and academic libraries.
The Power of Art also has a website, which includes background on each episode, lesson plans for teachers, and a Google Map mashup to show where to find works by the artists in American museums. Unfortunately the map identifies only one of the works by Van Gogh in the Art Institute of Chicago. Still, it is interesting to see what PBS web developers are doing.