How Art Made the World
BBC/Saregama, Rs 599 (2-disc set)
Rating: 3 stars
The BBC can hardly be faulted for thinking small. But in this five-part documentary, the British broadcaster betters itself on the audacity of its ambition. The aim of this documentary is nothing less than deconstructing mankind’s visual legacy spread over 100,000 years. How humans made art and how art made us human. To do that, the documentary moves across centuries and civilisations with the facility of a Mumbaikar skipping along on distant bricks laid across a large puddle.
The five-part series engages with the representation of the human form, our reading of everyday images, the power of visual persuasion, storytelling in pictures, and representations of death. The most challenging episodes are the first — in which neuro-scientist V.S. Ramachandran explains why artists tend to distort the human form — and the last — which tries to explain our fascination with representations of the dead. Problem is, after glitzy opening images of the modern world, each episode leaps back “thousands of years”, and stays that side of Christ’s birth. It also tends to stay that side of Assyria (modern-day Iraq).
One would have believed that in this age ‘documentary porn’ was the preserve of networks such as Discovery and National Geographic. Those magnificent leaps of imagination, those long questions coiling up tension for the quick release of answers. Well, this shows that the Beeb is a past master at the game.