I recently watched Simon Schama’s The Power of Art. It’s an excellent TV series on 8 genius artists in history, written and presented by Prof. Schama. I have to admit that BBC makes the most refined educational documentaries, since the quality of storytelling, photography, music and visual effects are almost perfect. The story of each painter is told in an adequately visual way: the important events and characters are acted out, others are illustrated with metaphorical images. The part of storytelling, painting presentation and Schama’s insightful comments are well integrated.
At a few times, a painting made me cry. I would not have been so touched without the profound background and analysis given by Schama. I gained a much more comprehensive knowledge about those artists. For instance, I knew Turner as merely a romantic landscape painter before. After watching the show, I realized I overlooked the most powerful aspect of his works - those depict the devastating disasters in human history, esp. Slave Ship as an emotional representation of the shockingly inhumane event happened in 1781.
Compared to the high-cost BBC series, PBS makes intriguing and informative documentaries at low budgets. A good TV series I watched recently is Art:21 which offers a great introduction into contemporary visual art. The show covers 72 influential artists living is US, including my familiar ones like James Turrell, Richard Sara, Cai Guoqiang, Maya Lin and Krzysztof Wodiczko, as well as many others I didn’t know of. The best part is seeing the work process of each artist, accompanied with the artist’s own interpretation. Each episode presents a theme by introducing 4 related artists. I can understand the advantages of doing that. But often times I found the artists’ works don’t fit into just one category. By sorting them out, it simplifies the broadness and complexity of the artist’s approach. That’s my only criticism of the show.