Monday, September 04, 2006

In preparation for the upcoming academic quarter, aside from burying my head in Derrida, Wittgenstein, and Chomsky, I watched a fascinating documentary series, part of which I plan to use in class, called How Art Made the World.

From the prehistoric cave drawings found in Altamira to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Africans, Mesopotamians, Australian Aborigines and beyond, it attempts to trace the history of art back to its antecedent, to uncover the origins and possible motives behind why such a thing was ever invented in the first place. Cambridge art historian and lecturer Dr. Nigel Spivey hosts, which brings me to my only real criticism, however minor it may be: he tries too hard to make his voice sound like David Attenborough's, and at times it becomes rather unnerving to listen to him speak. But aside from nitpicking, each episode is packed with juicy tidbits of knowledge.

"The essential premise of the show," says Dr. Spivey, "is that of all the defining characteristics of humanity as a species, none is more basic than the inclination to make art. Great apes will smear paint on canvas if they are given brushes and shown how, but they do not instinctively produce art any more than parrots produce conversation. We humans are alone in developing the capacity for symbolic imagery."