Just a few days to go until Warhol, the first of BBC One's Modern Masters series, is broadcast. It feels like we are paddling into uncharted territory - putting modern art and a new presenter Alastair Sooke into primetime BBC One. What are we trying to do?

The history of western art more or less makes sense until about a century ago when everything seemed to go a bit crazy. The normal rules of painting suddenly ceased to apply. Suddenly artists were less interested in making straightforward pictures of the world around them.

Maybe it's partly because the world got more complicated. Einstein rewrote the laws of physics and Freud labelled the unconscious. Photography seemed to be able to do the job of straight depiction quicker and better. And because the art got weirder, knowing what to make of it got more difficult.

New artistic movements arrived at dizzying speed - impressionism, expressionism, Dadaism, futurism, surrealism - it's not surprising that people looking at this new art started to feel a bit alienated. And even now, 100 years later, I think many people still feel confused.

By concentrating on the work of four key artists - Warhol, Matisse, Picasso and Dali - we give a sense in Modern Masters of what happened to art in the 20th Century.

They each changed art in their own way: Warhol as a pop artist, Dali as one of the original surrealists, Matisse as the master of colour and simple form, and Picasso, who could probably have invented modern art on his own. (It's said that a normal day for Picasso would be to paint three masterpieces before breakfast, then spend the day on the beach seducing beautiful women.)

Alastair Sooke is new to presenting, and he's a natural communicator. He knows about the art and talks about it in a clear and memorable way. And he's a good sport too - dressing up as Andy Warhol, trying his hand at a Matisse cut-out, and taking Dali's hovering fried egg for a walk.

Alastair goes to meet artists, biographers and curators and also talks to designers, advertising gurus and people from the fashion world to find out how these artists influenced culture more broadly.

The designer Paul Smith reveals that he gets a lot of his inspiring colour combinations from Matisse. Noel Fielding from the Mighty Boosh talks about how Dali's surrealism influenced his comedy and one of Picasso's models reveals how she inspired the actress Brigitte Bardot.

Hopefully you get a sense that these revolutionary, cheeky, inspired artists did more than paint a few pictures and make a lot of money - they really did change our world. I hope the series will inspire people to go out and discover all the art that surrounds us, much of it there to be enjoyed for free.

Alongside the series, BBC Online have a great website which includes a series of walking guides around some of the country's modern art landmarks. Viewers who can get to London's Victoria and Albert museum in May and the first half of June will be able to see rarely-seen works from their collection by our four masters Warhol, Dali, Matisse and Picasso.

I tried out the Glasgow and London walks myself, armed with a print-out art walk from the BBC website. First off, I headed for the central London one last Sunday, accompanied by my bike and a musician friend.

By Marble Arch we came across the monumental sculpture of a horse's head. The absurdity of it - a horse balancing on the tip of its nose - makes me think of Dali, as well as the faithful anatomical rendition. Of course, as I have the guide with us, I know it's not balancing, it's drinking.

Heading back along Bayswater Road, you notice the influence of the modern masters in the artwork hanging for sale on the railings of Kensington Gardens.

There is Dali, Matisse and Picasso in the heavy nudes and erotic dreamscapes. There might be a bit of 1970s music album cover art in there as well. Some very British nods to Warhol with paintings of Colman's Mustard, Marmite and Flake bars. There are also butterflies and spin paintings, which makes me realise that what Damien Hirst, one of today's most celebrated modern artists, does is perhaps not quite so easy as he makes it look.

On Tuesday, it was off to Glasgow, where I took my folding bicycle on the sleeper train. The Walk of Art (or in this case bike of art) was a great way to see some of the best of the city on a crisp spring morning.

There is some great modern sculpture on the city's streets and in public places. On the way back down Sauchiehall Street I spot an elegant-looking sweet shop, prominently featuring the Dali-designed Chupa Chups logo along with some Warhol screenprint-inspired graphics.

The very act of embarking on a walk with art appreciation as your goal makes you see the world in a different way. I hope that the series too will persuade people to look at the work of these and other modern artists afresh.

A hundred years ago modern art was in its infancy. By now it has proved it is here to stay, though it will be interesting to see what the art it has inspired looks like in 100 years' time.

Mark Bell is the commissioning editor of BBC Arts. Modern Masters starts at 9pm on Sunday, 2 May on BBC One

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  • Comment number 59. Posted by clralicaolcom

    on 19 Aug 2010 18:59

    I am depressed after reading the sanctimonious claptrap written about Alistair Sooke and his series on the BBC. I would like to warmly and highly congratulate Mr Sooke on a marvellous series which I absolutely loved. We need new young engaging presenters such as Alistair who reminds me of the new professor of science who is engaging the young in his difficult and unsexy subject. I thought Alistair's presentation was perfect - and he grabbed me for the whole series. What a load of snobby pseudo intellectuals showing off the negative critics are. Just the sort of people I am not interested in learning from. Alistair made his subject friendly, accessible, understandable and entertaining. The critics remind me of the numerous film and theatre critics who criticize everything negatively as if it makes them look more clever, and then the public show them up completely by loving the films and movies they rubbished. I do hope the BBC ask Alistair to do many more programes on artists. I loved them and so did my teenagers. And don't think I am writing because I know Mr Sooke - I have no connection to him whatsoever. I am now trying to obtain DVDs of the series.

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  • Comment number 58. Posted by Siobhan

    on 23 Jul 2010 11:15

    This comment was removed because it broke the house rules. Explain

  • Comment number 57. Posted by ravydavygravy

    on 23 Jun 2010 22:17

    sorry everyone (actually nobody replied anyway) I have found the track in the list. The string music is andromeda. I'll crawl back under my stone now

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  • Comment number 56. Posted by ravydavygravy

    on 18 Jun 2010 22:27

    Please can someone tell me the title of the string music used over the closing credits of the Matisse programme. It's not Avro Part and it's not on the track listing. It's also used in the programme after 'andromeda'
    Ta very much
    I liked to see the locations and the old footage - gives me somewhere to visit

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  • Comment number 55. Posted by NR2_Girl

    on 12 Jun 2010 16:54

    Mr Sooke and his supporters may find this amusing...Art and its influence with music....


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  • Comment number 54. Posted by Fiona Wickham - BBC TV blog editor

    on 7 Jun 2010 11:28

    Hello Dim ond Non - about a Modern Masters DVD - I asked Mark Bell and he says that though there are no current plans to release the series on DVD, he's confident it will be repeated on TV soon.

    Fiona, TV blog editor

  • Comment number 53. Posted by Ian Wood

    on 6 Jun 2010 22:36

    I only caught the Dali episode of the series tonight and have to agree with previous comments regarding the very superficial and dumbed down nature of the content. To exemplify Dali's work by his influence on and involvement in advertising, TV comedy and design is aiming purely at popular culture and the TV generation who possibly have very little interest in pursuing and expanding their interest beyond the parameters of thisw programme.

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  • Comment number 52. Posted by MarkBellBBC

    on 4 Jun 2010 14:34

    Thanks for all the comments - it is great to get feedback, good or bad, and one of the aims of this blog and the series is to provoke debate.

    In answer to some of the more critical comments, (EdithJ, Greigjohnson, francis scholl, RDudleyEdwards, theoLC62) the response to Modern Masters overall has shown that many people are not familiar with the lives and work of these four artists, however well-known their names.

    The series was designed to set these artists' lives and work in context, and show how art and artists do not exist in a separate universe. The brief was to answer the question 'What has Modern Art done for us?' and we tried to do this be showing how radical ideas in art can find their way into other areas of commerce and culture.

    Luigi Claudio, Joanna, TwoWayView, lesley, NR2_Girl, LadyP, greendesigner, Steve Rock and more! - thank you for your encouraging comments.

    We have had a very positive response to the series overall, and it has been very exciting to get a new broad audience to programmes about 20th Century art on BBC One. Alastair Sooke has been great to work with. Having studied at the Courtauld and written about art for a national newspaper he brought knowledge, enthusiasm and a fresh approach. It has been great to have such a positive response from so many viewers and critics and I am looking forward to more programmes from him in the future.

    Lastly, thanks to lonepilgrim - despite your disappointment in Modern Masters, it's also good to see your positive comments about the film What Is Beauty? on BBC Two last Autumn. It was a thoughtful essay on what beauty in art means to the critic Matthew Collings. It is great to be able to approach and celebrate art in different ways.

  • Comment number 51. Posted by Fiona Wickham - BBC TV blog editor

    on 4 Jun 2010 11:46

    shiveringgoat - I salute you! I'm so pleased you found the answer.

    Lynda Crossland #24 - I asked the production team and they think you mean the book JAZZ by Matisse. They say it's a very rare book but the Victoria and Albert Museum's library hold the copy Alastair looked at.

    Hope that helps.

    Fiona - TV blog editor

  • Comment number 50. Posted by shiveringgoat

    on 4 Jun 2010 10:48

    BINGO! I found it Fiona

    Please spank the person who gave you the track list - the piece of music I wanted was not listed. Another track by the Aphex Twin from the same album is but the actual track is by Aphex Twin - Heliosphan.
    I managed to record part of the TV audio with no talking for 10 seconds then looped it in Traktor then sent to Shazam on my iPhone and BINGO Shazam found it. miracle of technology.

    So if anyone is wondering what the beautiful music that is not lkisted in the Matisse show at 50 seconds and 16 mins is, think of me with a few more grey hairs!

    Aphex Twin - Heliosphan :):)


    Music Is The Answer - Love Is The Message!

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