Start the Week

Art and Civilisations

March 5, 2018

What is art - and why do we need it? Fifty years ago the landmark BBC Two series Civilisation set out to answer this question. Now historians Mary Beard, Simon Schama and David Olusoga take on this challenge of defining human civilisation through art, in a bold update renamed Civilisations. Mary Beard tells Andrew Marr how humans have chosen to depict themselves, from enormous pre-historic heads in Mexico to lustful paintings meant for male eyes. She unpicks the bloody battle between religion and art, and declares that "one man's art is another's barbarity". But should art make us recoil? Simon Schama explores our urge to destroy the images we dislike, and finds that hatred and destruction have followed art through the centuries. This clash of religions and cultures has enriched art, argues David Olusoga. He sees culture on the frontline as empires expanded and a battle took place to define what art could be. This spring the artist Tacita Dean offers her own account of art's value and meaning as she unveils three exhibitions at once: exploring landscapes at the Royal Academy, portraits at the National Portrait Gallery and still life at the National Gallery. Moving between film and painted images, she challenges our idea of what art looks like. Producer: Hannah Sander.

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