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Modern Masters with Alastair Sooke: Do the walking tour

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Mark Bell Mark Bell | 17:12 UK time, Thursday, 29 April 2010

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.

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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.)

Modern Masters presenter Alastair Sooke

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.

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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.

Mark Bell with his trusty bike on the walking tour

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


  • Comment number 1.

    By concentrating on the work of four key artists you give a very narrow sense of what happened to art in the 20th Century.

    How can you hope that the series will persuade people to look at the work of these and other modern artists afresh, when it's all just a rehash of the art canon?

    Women appeared in this evenings show as the fashion advisor and the muse... Come on BBC this is Wiki art for dummies.

    There's more to ART than this.

  • Comment number 2.

    Thanks for this show and thanks to Alastair Sooke, I thoroughly enjoyed the show. The way Warhol's life and artwork has been investigated is brilliant.

    I found rather interesting the idea of the billboard as a map to dig deep into the artist's life and bring out a compelling read of the artist's artwork.

    Dennis Hopper as final interview of the show was striking and he cites Duchamp's intuition of "the artist in the future would be a person who points his finger. He won't be a painter, he'll say that's art and it'll be art " which leads to my point: please BBC do a show on Marcel Duchamp as one of the Moder Masters.

    I reckon there is plenty to say and investigate about Duchamp's artwork. The way he interpreted the Cubism and brought it to a certain extend as installation art with "The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass)" and the way he shaped and defined installation and photography as a form of modern art.
    I would be delighted if this show happened.

    I am looking forward to watching the next show.

    Many thanks

  • Comment number 3.

    As a lecturer in the history of art, and an active art critic, I feel passionate about the importance of making art history enjoyable, and opening up modern art to new audiences. Whilst recognising the challenges inherent in introducing modern art to a popular audience, I am nevertheless shocked by the sheer superficiality and banality of the first programme in the series, and Alastair Sooke's unnecessarily dumbed-down script. Could you not have found somebody else in either the art world, journalism or academia with a much stronger background in the history of modern art who could have done a better job?

    The entire underlying concept of the series appears to be to show how such artists work has been appropriated by the commercial sector, as if this is alone were proof of its 'awesomeness' and ultimate success. Where is the engagement with its politics? Or any close reading of the works in question?

    Why present a series on Warhol, Picasso, Matisse and Dali, when these are some of the most popular and over-exposed artists of the twentieth century? And what does it mean to start with Warhol? Why the confused periodisation? What about Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Hannah Höch, Robert Rauschenberg? Why not introduce some of the great and less popularised (and not exclusively male and white) practitioners of the twentieth century? How is Sooke defining his version of modern art?

    Perversely, Sooke's inability to properly engage with these artists or their works doesn't render them more understandable or approachable, rather it makes them seem even more remote and incomprehensible.

    I spent some time trying to work out who the target audience for this programme is, or what that audience could actually gain from it. I still have no idea.

  • Comment number 4.

    I absolutely agree with the above comment. This show had the air of a Newsround report; we were stunned to find it was actually on BBC1. Alastair Sooke is simply terrible. He was awful on The Culture Show and is awful here. Unwatchably patronising, inarticulate and, most distressingly, seemingly apologetic for the art itself; repeatedly calling Warhol 'weird' in the most facile way imaginable.

    I'd say that this show should be on CBBC, but - as another commenter has said - the utter superficiality of this programme would be a worryingly misleading introduction for youngsters wanting to be educated or enthused.

  • Comment number 5.

    I agree with comments 3 and 4. This was a disappointing show which failed to inform, educate or entertain. Matt Collings' programme on 'What is Beauty?' a few months ago was far superior: accessible but informative, challenging yet comprehensible. Could you encourage the presenter and producers of this new series to watch it for some guidance or better still just get Matt Collings or someone equally qualified to present programmes on the visual arts in future.

  • Comment number 6.

    I must admit, I wasn't impressed. The guy presenting certainly knows his stuff, but I felt that his approach was that of talking to a bunch of GCSE students. In the first five minutes, I almost turned off, as I thought is this guy for real! He just seemed to be stating the bloody obvious, and then he would use irritating phrases like 'Warhol did ... silk screens of the 'movie star' Marilyn Monroe'. The 'movie star'! Never!! I thought she was just some gal who worked down the caff. The diagrams connecting his work with painting, film, and music were unnecessary, like being back in the school class again! And the dressing up...unnecessary. Something that else that bugged me, his analysis of his paintings, saying things like 'you pick up this feeling of...', as opposed to the singular 'I' pick up this..... Art should be subjective, whatever he picks up from a painting, is not necessarily the same way I, or you, or anyone else regards the piece. For example, some people might say Warhol's soup cans are his way of showing the disposability of modern day society, whereas Warhol said himself that it was something he ate all the time, and so was just a good image to paint. In other words, 'take from it what you will'. Anyway, I just hope that the forthcoming editions are better. There was a far better three-part documentary on Channel 4 in the early noughties, which contained a lot more about his proteges (Edie, International Velvet, Ultra Violet etc), who in themselves became another aspect of Warhol's art. This was completely missed out in this documentary. However, I did enjoy watching the silk screening process with Gerard Malanga. I always wanted to know how that was done.

  • Comment number 7.

    It was pitched at just above Tony Hart level. The BBC's patronising panjandrums seem to think all we plebs can understand is celebrity and controver..si...al. So these words are repeated endlessly by our usual faux naive breathless boyish presenter Alastair Sooke, who surely must be a little more clued up then he is forced to pretend so that we can identify with him in our blessed ignorance. All arts shows have to explore questions, we need to watch the host go on a journey, meet people, shake their hands, have a coffee with them. No information or interview is allowed to be unframed by this gonzo rubbish. We can't just be told a fact by an expert or watch someone who knew Warhol speak. No no no, that would be too hard for us, and the people on tv must be as stupid as the people on tv think we are. Especially with arts, which no one likes anyway.

  • Comment number 8.

    This show is a lazy piece of commissioning. Superficial ideas for shows will produce superficial television. Anyone who knows anything about 20thC art would realise that it can't be explained, or even meaningfully introduced, through inane hagiographies of less than a handful of totally unrelated artists. An inept idea that deserves to be roasted as a turkey.

  • Comment number 9.

    I just watched the Warhol show, and I enjoyed it very much. I agree the artists are semi-unrelated aside from the fact that they fit into the loose category of 'modern artists', and thus I think it opens up the possibility of more artists being covered in more editions to make a more complete picture of 20th century art. Maybe Alastair does pitch it slightly too simplistic at times (as mentioned above), but sometimes it's good to be reminded of some of the basics and jog the art memory bank. Two thumbs up from me

  • Comment number 10.

    I have been a professional artist and University Lecturer for many years, and having just watched Alistaire Sooke on Matisse. I think it was an insult to the intelligence of any layman watching. Blue Peter would have done a better job. Apart from his own ill informed, simplistic assumptions as to Matisse's motifs he chose to interview other practitioners who displayed little knowledge as to what Matisse was attempting to achieve. I suggest that if Sooke is in any way serious about studying the works of Matisse, he could do no better than read the works of Pierre Schneider. Just how far is the BBC intending to dumb down?

  • Comment number 11.

    I watched last weeks programme even though I'm not a Warhol fan and it still didn't make me like his work but I thought it was a different way of presenting art to the masses. Yes it is narrow to focus on 4 artists but i think they've picked the more well known names for those who have no knowledge of modern art but who may have heard of them or possibly seen images in places like Ikea as the programmes have mentioned.
    I am an art graduate myself so would say I have some degree of knowledge (no pun intended)but I think this engages those who have the misconception of art being stuffy and boring. It may be classed as dumbing down but if it inspires others to find out more or become involved or visit all of our amazing galleries and invest money in these institutions then I'm all for it.
    I enjoyed the Matisse episode far more than I expected this evening and even I was moved at the final chapel scenes (helped by the tear-jerking classical music in the background of course)as it was the complete antithesis of what would be considered a normal place of worship but it summed up his approach and attitude towards the established art scene.
    Matisse's enthuiasm reminded me of why I was so determined to study art from an early age-shame I've never been able to get a job doing what I love doing best too :(

  • Comment number 12.

    Very harsh criticisms here for what I thought was an interesting program, nicely done.
    I was happy with the first program about Andy Warhol, too.
    Though I probably know stuff-all about Art I enjoy any program that gives me a relaxed insight into it.
    The presenter seemed knowledgeable enough, and I liked his gentle, enquiring approach to the subject and to the interviewees.
    It was refreshing to have this delivery, rather than the know-it-all don type (naming no names, like Simon Shama) who fires his words at the viewer like cannons balls to slaughter those lowly mush-heads who only get their intellectual sucker from TV.

    This series seems to advertise itself as a tasty slice of the subject, so I am looking forward to the next episode (very suitable for a Sunday evening viewing).
    I am sure a more in-depth series would be welcomed. Maybe BBC4 would commission one or two of the comment-givers; if they think they are up to it!
    More art, and The Arts, on TV please.


  • Comment number 13.

    It's possible that my comments will offend Alastair Sooke... If this breaches the BBC guidelines then I doubt that more people than myself and the moderator will read this:

    I have watched both progammes in the series so far and have been interested by the work... but very disappointed by both the style and the format of them.

    In Scotland the word 'Sook' describes a sycophant who shamelessly flatters in order to associate with those they conceive to be their betters (While secretly believing themselves to be superior); so the presenters name is extraordinarily appropriate.

    In the first programme of the series 'the Sooke' (As he shall be referred to hereafter) asks the question; referring to Warhol "Was he any good?" He then goes on to shamelessly flatter Warhol's shade and to wax lyrical about the way that the artist was trying to portray Marilyn Monroe's 'feelings' in some of his more famous work.

    The camera lingers over the presenter far, far too often in a shamelessly self glorifying way that even Warhol would have been ashamed of. He gives us absolutely no insight into the works themselves and makes no real critical analysis of anything we see, preferring instead to promote himself and his own subjective opinion. I was particularly offended by the cynical lingering use of the "moved by art" moment in the chapel... He may indeed have been moved for a moment but the continual close-ups of him attempting to squeeze out tears were a trifle nauseating.

    Aside from the presenter this might have been an interesting series (And I would still reccommend it for 10-13 year olds for whom it is accidentally pitched); probably more so if it had been presented by an ingenuous newcomer to modern art, who would certainly have had far more interesting insightful things to say. Unfortunately we are learning far more about the "Sooke": we know that he recently got engaged, that he is enamoured of the wife of the French president and that he rode in a "Boxy" taxi in St Petersberg although why any of these facts are at all relevant remains a mystery...

    I genuinely hope that the next two progammes are more credible. I hope that someone will one day ask these two questions:

    A. If it is not worth a fortune, is it still art? (The better the art the more it is worth or vice versa?)
    B. If no artist was permitted to sign their work, how would we tell what was art and what was charlatanism?

  • Comment number 14.

    Oh Dear,
    I watched the Matisse program last night and am still cringing at the scene where he came over all emotional in the Matisse chapel. Surely it's for the audience to decide whether they feel moved by an artists work and life. The whole thing seemed phoney and forced.
    Poor editorial decision making.


  • Comment number 15.

    What was the tear jerking classical music during the chapel scene please. (It was more affecting than Sooke)

  • Comment number 16.

    If anyone knows the title of the ambient music, and the artist at the start of the Modern Masters - Matisse programme, please let me know.

  • Comment number 17.

    Responding to Peter Herring (above) the music in the Vence Chapel scene was Spiegel im spiegel by Arvo Pärt. The skillful use of music was, in my view, the one saving grace of this programme.

    Unlike presenters of previous TV series on Modern art (e.g. Robert Hughes, Matthew Collings, Waldemar Januszczak, Andrew Graham-Dixon, Ben Lewis) who had some demonstrable expertise to bring the the table, Alastair Snooke appears to have cribbed his ideas (platitudes) from some sub A-level primer on 'Modern Art', which he gushes back at us without any critical reflection or insight.

    Did I really hear him say (on a BBC programme purporting to offer some sort of intelligent insight into Modern art) 'Does Miffy like Matisse?' This man is the Bertie Wooster of TV arts journalism.

  • Comment number 18.

    In my opinion there is too much snobbery in the art world and this programme has made me remember why i love art so much. Why has there got to be critical reflection or insight, use your eyes, open your minds, formulate your own opinions.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed both programmes and the love that alastair has for his subject is obvious. I applaud the emotion that he felt he was able to show at the end of the Matisse show, it made my heart leap that he was able to relay the joy and astonishment of the moment.

    Art isn't about being po faced and stuffy, your programme is fantastic.

  • Comment number 19.

    I can't wait to watch your programs about Picasso and Daly.
    "when the inspiration comes, it should find you working" Pablo Picasso.
    "Do I believe in God ?. Yes when I work." Henri Matisse.
    A little piece of advice. In analysing one should always flee from the causality principle.
    Is it not curious that the green-and-orange bad boy made his last work of art in the conventional blue and yellow of the time of his beginnings?

  • Comment number 20.

    With its use of archive film and witnesses, I found the programme on Matisse marginally more informative than Warhol, although Sooke's reliance on transferring dumbed-down emotion tended to treat the entire audience as artistically uninformed. I thought that there was a danger that anyone taking an interest in 20thC art for the first time would have suffered, through a dearth of artistic context and the crafting of Matisse to fit some sort of populist bill or other. Again there was a heavy emphasis on how Matisse's technical simplicity, reduction of content and use of colour has been exploited commercially, when there could have been so many other approaches.

    The need to create internal harmony was glossed over, along with Matisse's underlying expressionism, with its terminological distinction - 'expressiveness' being largely independent from 'expression'. It was never made clear that rather than simply seeing Matisse's art as a discharge of powerful emotions, or an attempt to give life to his own feelings, his forms were choices investigating abstraction, line and colour. They can be seen as external to emotions he might have possessed at the time the works were created. Some clarification regarding expression and decoration might have been achieved through Matisse's own words;

    "I cannot copy nature in a servile way; I am forced to interpret nature and submit it to the spirit of the picture. From the relationship I have found in all the tones, there must relate a living harmony of colours, a harmony analogous to that of musical composition...The entire arrangement of my picture is expressive; the place occupied by the figures, the empty spaces around them, the proportions, everything has its share." (Matisse H. La Grande Revue 25th December 1908.)

    It might also have been helpful to have placed Fauvism in some sort of context, perhaps mentioning Roualt, Camoin, Marquet and Manguin - all grouped around Matisse and students of Gustav Moreau at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts - not forgetting Matisse's association with Andre Derain in Collioure. I know that a core theme is to present evidence of 'what modern art has done for us', but these programmes so far seem to be a loose, fairly partial biography of the artist, interspersed with this one aspect of consumerism.

  • Comment number 21.

    I don't have a TV because programmes are generally too thin and visual these days. However, occasionally something brilliant flashes across the screen.

    The structure, the script, the style and the ideas were fabulous. Thought provoking, intellectual, stylish, artistic and historical, with a universal appeal. It doesn't get any better. The presentation was masterful.

    The insight into Warhol was a life changing revelation to this 50 plus viewer.

    Thank you.

  • Comment number 22.

    This is exactly what the BBC should be doing more off! Alastair Sooke is, engaging, knowledgeable, passionate and communicates enough information to the viewer to enable them to begin contextualise modern art and reemphasise that it is not created in a vacuum or some sterile white cube art gallery where a lot of it inevitably ends up.
    This is not an encyclopaedic look at the history of modern art or the artists careers- and can I remind other commenter’s neither does it claim to be- it acts as an introduction to a general audience and markets modern art to a section of the public who may believe it has nothing to do with ‘real life’ or anything they can relate to. On this level it completely succeeds. Yes I think Series 2 (which hopefully there will be) should start to diversify to artists who are not already part of the accepted cannon and there is scope for some real surprises and debate to be opened up.
    I myself have an academic background in art and currently in a professional capacity and I feel saddened and frustrated that some of the more scathing comments come from lecturers and academics who can only see the world through their eyes. To speak on behalf of the general public and claiming this programme is an insult to their intelligence is offensive and highly presumptive, their preferred phrase ‘dumbing down’ speaks volumes of the distance still yet to travel in old institutional values to accessible information.
    Yes there is enough known about these artist to offer a deeper, more complex exploration of the artists work( it’s been done already) but this programme,-its format, styling and delivery- is designed for mass appeal. It rightly aims to get people hooked, to show them how wonderful, inspiring, vital, modern art is by bite sized, accessible information and then directs them to where they can find out more.
    What’s more, I personally really enjoy the more relaxed and frivolous elements dotted through the programme and I felt moved when watching Alastair’s very real response to the Matisse’s chapel-I am glad they kept it in the edit. No I didn’t ‘learn anything’ from this scene, but I saw another human being’s emotional response to modern art and I identified with it. I am sick of the pompous, preening grandiose narratives delivered my men in blazers and jeans who sound as if they have regurgitated an academic text book. I want to watch and listen to someone who I can relate to.
    In my opinion this programme is doing for Art on TV what the Tate Modern did for modern art galleries and if there is any call for a female co-host count me first in the queue!

  • Comment number 23.

    Having just watched the Picasso programme I found it to be a great learning tool for those not advanced in their knowledge of artists and their lives. As a teacher of Fine Art to A level I know how the programmes would enhance any course, GCSE and upward, and Alastair Sooke is not only engaging but knows his stuff and makes the subject interesting and refreshing. Why such snobbery and such harsh remarks above to the other programmes?? I only wish that the BBC would release the programmes on dvd. Good dvds for use in schools are very rare, usually only the very expensive and totally self promoting ones available at galleries etc, which are dull in comparison! Well done Alastair Sooke and the BBC. Excellent!

  • Comment number 24.

    I have now watched the three Modern Masters and as a fairly new artist myself thoroughly enjoyed them. They are helping me to understand art. That no one person has the say on what should be classed as art. Would anyone be able to tell me what the book was called/isbn number that Alastair had during the Matisse programme. I would like to learn more of these artists. Well done BBC and well done Alastair for very good viewing. I wish the BBC would show more Art programmes.

  • Comment number 25.

    I just saw the Picasso program and thought it was really good. It is, I think, the first time I've ever liked art and it went at just the right pace for me, a 17 year old with no prior interest in art. Hopefully there will be more.

  • Comment number 26.

    I think everyone has forgotten that this series is on BBC1 (the very channel that serves up sophisticated fair like East Enders, Graham Norton, among other mind stretching gems). So the intellectual level of Modern Masters is about right for the audience. The thing that I have found so annoying is the non-crediting of the various music tracks played throughout the series which has been excellent.
    So if the producers of the series happen to be reading this PLEASE,PLEASE LIST ALL THE MUSIC ON THE MODERN MASTERS SITE.

    Mike Dempsey

  • Comment number 27.

    Can anyone please tell me where I can find the credits for the music used in the show, particularly the last one in the series on Dali? There is one particular piece of electronic music used in it that triggered a memory of having heard it before and it's annoying me that I can't remember it. Thanks in advance.....Peace.

  • Comment number 28.

    loved the dali show, whetted our appetite for more of the series and to visit some of the places on the program. is there anywhere online i can get a list of the songs played on the program , the background music used on the show is really really good. Jack

  • Comment number 29.

    Such a sad, silly episode about Dali. The presenter forced upon us his own pubescent view on the artist, joyfully frolicking from painting to objet d'art, without pausing to mention what is surely the most remarkable aspect of Dali's artistry, that of being obsessed with making money which is even now being perpetuated by his estate. And as far as biography is concerned, we were offered this comfortable leap from early childhood straight to Gala, ignoring Dali's relationship with Garcia Lorca which today is seen by many as the most formative influence of his early years. This wouldn't be due to any homophobic unease by the presenter, in his youthful enthusiasm to brush up with the big art daddies of the past century?

  • Comment number 30.

    The picture of Dali had some new intereting elements but why gloss over his clear hatred of the left and support for fascism.. Also I felt like was watching a coy, boulderised review of the real meanings of surrealist works- Lips sofas look like vaginas- the fear of being eaten by you object of desire. A woman with a baby carriage for her head and feet snail feet has obvious mysogenistic meanings- Woman as a baby carrying creature of low status.- In what seemed to be a Dali for children show you choose to pretend not to see it.

  • Comment number 31.

    The song playing over the credits of the Dali episode was 'Frontier Psychiatrist' by The Avalanches. The video is appropriately surreal too and can be easily found on youtube.

    Other artists featured include Bonobo (two of his tracks were in there); Kid Koala; Coldcut (the track is called 'Timber'); Cinematic Orchestra; Madonna ('Hollywood') was in there too, not so keen on that choice! Those are the ones I recall off the top of my head anyway. Hope that helps a bit.

  • Comment number 32.

    Our HND Fine Art group thoroughly enjoyed these programmes and well done to Alastair Sooke for presenting art in a 'fresh' informal manner which will enable a wider audience to join in the discussion. I have been studying art for 5 years and it gets to a point when you can only talk to a 'select' group as many people do not understand the subject matter or have a limited knowledge. It is fascinating seeing how these artists have influenced all manner of creative fashion today and their concepts are not just visions any longer but 'reality'. Alistair Sooke's genuine love of art shone through particularly in the Matisse programme and it was enlightening that he could show his emotion on film with regard to Matisse's achievements - I had tears streaming down my face watching the light pour through the stained glass windows of the chapel and Alistair Sooke was equally affected. The opportunity to enjoy art at this level should be available to all.

  • Comment number 33.

    NR2Girl - well done! Excellent blog!!

  • Comment number 34.

    I am more than disappointed to find that the Modern Masters walk in Glasgow is just that, a walk that celebrates Modern 'Masters'. For the past three years at Glasgow Women's Library we have been trying to actively address the lack of walking tours (and monuments, and civic recognition of women's histories generally) and, in the case of our Garnethill Women's Heritage Walk, women artists in particular. I am amazed that with this opportunity to consider a fresh approach to developing a walking tour that the BBC have dismally failed to highlight anything but the same old (white) male canon. Please let us know if this is likely to be addressed as we have a mass of information on the (public and other artworks by)women so glaringly missed out on this trail...Niki De Saint Phalle, Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh and the so-called Glasgow Girls, Shona Kinloch, Joan Eardley...

  • Comment number 35.

    Loved the show, thought it was fantastic, Dali comes up some completely next level pieces. Would anybody at all be able to give me the tracklist of the music used in Dali's episode..thought some of the music was excellent. Or does anybody know who/where to get hold of it?? Much appreciated ! .x

  • Comment number 36.

    Peter Herring wanted to know what the music was played during the Matisse weepy chapel segment. It was Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Part.

    Come on BBC let's have a complete listing of all the music played!

    Mike Dempsey

  • Comment number 37.

    I agree, I don't understand why they don't put the tracklist on, music is a big factor in art, they go well together, so it should get a mention!

    I remember one particular piece of music in the Dali episode - Bonobo Ketto.. can't really remember the scene it was played at though. Any other tracks people recognise - please please post them!! .x

  • Comment number 38.

    I too am a lecturer in art history, and felt let down in some ways by this series. Links were not substantiated, and it felt like a fanzine for the artists chosen. Critical analysis was non-existent - why not mention, for example, that Freud dismissed Dali completely. The way it was shown suggested that Dali was a good disciple. As another blogger said, Dali's selling out was hardly addressed - the signed blank sheets of paper, his PR man working through the Yellow Pages to create Dali-esque objets d'art, .... despite his 'awesome' talent, he sold his soul to the devil. It was this, as much as the art work, that inspired the likes of Hirst. And what of his childhood, hinted at, but never explored. The whole series skimmed the surface. Alastair Sooke was engaging, yes, but he is a scholar of the antique, and an English graduate. There are engaging specialists, and there are lots of them - not just Collings and Januszczak.

    And why not Duchamp? If ever there was someone who inspired and informed 20th and 21st C art, it was him.

  • Comment number 39.

    I am really enjoying Modern Masters. I watch it with my nephew and my partner, both who, unlike myself, previously had very little interest in art. Both readily enjoyed the shows and felt that they understood more about the controversial subject of art and it's place in modern culture. I think the show is what it is. I see it as an interesting introduction to Modern Art, something that is designed as a teaser in order to entice and educate those who have previously no understanding for this type of painting.

    Not everything on TV should be designed for just one type of audience. We are all very different, with different likes, points of view. I am not a fan of Eastenders or shows such as that myself, but I respect that others find enjoyment in them and I don't feel that makes people intellectually inferior to me, just different. I always think about how Impressionism was viewed in its day, I suppose that was thought of as the Eastenders of it's time by the French Salons who refused to exhibit the works.

  • Comment number 40.

    It seems very hypocritical to on the one hand be an appreciator of modern art, which challenged the status quo of acceptable tastes of the day and then on the other challenge the acceptable tastes of our day and age!

  • Comment number 41.

    I'm desperate to know the title of the simple piano music played on the trailer for this series. It sounds similar to the wonderful 'Spiegel im Spiegel' by Arvo Pärt, used in the Matisse programme, but I can't locate it from amongst his work. Maybe it isn't his. If anyone could help I'd be immensely grateful!

  • Comment number 42.

    If I had delivered a lesson of this standard?

  • Comment number 43.

    Absolutely superb television. Why hasn't anyone adopted this approach before? Sooke's ability to draw the connection between art and the real world transcends a purely theoretical explanation. Without being a flounsy bell cheese he engages with the emotion and humanistic elements of art in a way that is incredibly engaging. I think he puts the artistic establishment to shame. People wouldn't be so derogatory about modern art if there were a few more commentators like him who weren't afraid to make art accessible to everyone. I hope he is given the opportunity to continue his excellent work.

  • Comment number 44.

    I only watched the Matisse episode and actually really enjoyed it. it may not have been the most intelligent piece of TV any of the other bloggers have seen but isn't it great that these sorts of programme's are becoming accessible?? does anyone know what piece of music they used at the end of the Matisse episode - the classical piece while the presenter was in the chapel designed by Matisse? it is such a beautiful piece of music and i have looked everywhere to try and find it. thanks to anyone who knows.

  • Comment number 45.


    I am pretty certain that the Music you are talking about is by Arvo Pärt called Spiegel Im Spiegel and the version I think they used is on ECM records catalogue = ECM New Series 1591.

    I am also desperate to find out what that ambient/electronic music was 50 seconds into the Matisse programme and repeated through the programme

    Anyone any ideas?

    Many Thanks


  • Comment number 46.

    Hello everyone, thanks for your comments here.
    Breeze, shiveringgoat, StuartC, Katherleeny, Mike Dempsey, SyM, Knowmadiq, StuLarkin and everyone who wants to know more about the music - since I saw your interest, I've been pursuing getting a copy of the tracklistings. They're live on the website for the Matisse and Dali episodes now and we are working on Warhol and Picasso. I'll publish the links here when they're live.

    Cheers, Fiona - TV blog editor

  • Comment number 47.

    Tracklistings are live now on the Warhol and Picasso pages too.
    Thanks everyone.

  • Comment number 48.

    Many Thanks Fiona, BUT! I spent tonight trying to find the music I wanted from the Matisse programme and I'm certain its not in the list you kindly published.
    The music I am after is directly after the main Modern Masters theme by David Schweitzer
    and before the second track on the list the music I want is 50 seconds into the programme, and is again repeated at 16 minutes in between (on your list) Leftfield — Melt and David Arnold & Paul Hart — Andromeda.
    I have been on youtube, iTunes and if not there have found the TV/Film composers website and listened there but I'm certain its not on the list
    - I would really appreciate any further help, the music is amazing, and I'm pretty sure not just a stock background filler, it reminds me a bit of Tangerine Dream, ambient sort of...sorry for rambling!
    Many Thanks

  • Comment number 49.

    I've read some of the other comments with eyebrows raised! I thought this was a WONDERFUL introduction to modern art. I'm not a philistine. I go to most exhibitions but used to find modern art rather perplexing. I found this series to be engaging and thoroughly enjoyable. I'm on the BBC website this morning because I was so dismayed to find that it is no longer available on iPlayer and was hoping to discover whether there were any plans to repeat it or to release it on DVD. Yes it would be nice to expand to include other artists and yes blah blah it could be taken to greater depths. But what about those of us who wish to be *introduced* to a subject rather than hit over the head with it? Such comments are nothing but intellectual snobbery of the worst kind. Which is precisely why so many people are put off by modern art since they are made to feel as if they're not clever enough to understand it. And as for whining about Snooke being moved by Matisse's final work... Excuse me?! I thought it was touching. If the creative endeavour is about anything it's about being able to 'speak' to people both emotionally as well as intellectually. I've been uplifted and educated and engaged by this series. More of the same please - and when can I buy this on dvd.

  • Comment number 50.

    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!

  • Comment number 51.

    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 52.

    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 53.

    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.

  • Comment number 54.

    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 55.

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


  • Comment number 56.

    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

  • Comment number 57.

    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

  • Comment number 58.

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

  • Comment number 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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