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Art and Civilisations

Andrew Marr on art and civilisation with Mary Beard, Simon Schama, Tacita Dean and David Olusoga.

What is art - and why do we need it?

Fifty years ago the landmark BBC Two series Civilisation set out to answer this question. Now historians Mary Beard, Simon Schama and David Olusoga take on this challenge of defining human civilisation through art, in a bold update renamed Civilisations. Mary Beard tells Andrew Marr how humans have chosen to depict themselves, from enormous pre-historic heads in Mexico to lustful paintings meant for male eyes. She unpicks the bloody battle between religion and art, and declares that "one man's art is another's barbarity".

But should art make us recoil? Simon Schama explores our urge to destroy the images we dislike, and finds that hatred and destruction have followed art through the centuries.

This clash of religions and cultures has enriched art, argues David Olusoga. He sees culture on the frontline as empires expanded and a battle took place to define what art could be.

This spring the artist Tacita Dean offers her own account of art's value and meaning as she unveils three exhibitions at once: exploring landscapes at the Royal Academy, portraits at the National Portrait Gallery and still life at the National Gallery. Moving between film and painted images, she challenges our idea of what art looks like.

Producer: Hannah Sander.

Available now

43 minutes

Mary Beard

Mary Beard is Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge and presents Civilisations on BBC Two.

Civilisations: How Do We Look and The Eye of Faith is published by Profile Books.

Simon Schama

Simon Schama, CBE is University Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University, a Fellow of the British Academy and the Royal Society of Literature and Contributing Editor at the Financial Times.

He presents Civilisations which continues on BBC Two this Thursday at 9pm.

David Olusoga

David Olusoga is a broadcaster and historian and presents Civilisations on BBC Two.

Civilisations: First Contact and The Cult of Progress is published by Profile Books.

Tacita Dean

Tacita Dean is a visual artist.

Portrait is at the National Portrait Gallery (15 March-28 May), Still Life is at the National Gallery (15 March-28 May) and Landscape is at the Royal Academy (19 May-12 August).



Role Contributor
Presenter Andrew Marr
Interviewed Guest Mary Beard
Interviewed Guest Simon Schama
Interviewed Guest Tacita Dean
Interviewed Guest David Olusoga
Producer Hannah Sander


  • Mon 5 Mar 2018 09:00
  • Mon 5 Mar 2018 21:30