Main content

The Vital Spark

Episode 9 of 9

Documentary. Simon Schama explores the fate of art in the machine- and profit-driven world, looking at the rise of art as a tradeable commodity.

Simon Schama begins Civilisations with this premise: that it is in art - the play of the creative imagination - that humanity expresses its most essential self: the power to break the tyranny of the humdrum, the grind of everyday. Art makes life worth living and is the great window into human potential. And societies become civilised to the extent that they take culture as seriously as the prosecution of power or the accumulation of wealth. But in the century of total war and industrial slaughter, was (and is) that enough?

The cause of humanity went up in the smoke of the Nazi crematoria. Horror and terror brushed beauty aside and stamped on its pretensions. In the modern world, art has become increasingly commodified. Simon's last programme explores the fate of art in the machine- and profit-driven world. It looks at the rise of art as a tradeable commodity and turns on one central question. Should art create a realm separate from the modern world, a place where we can escape and pull the ladder up after us? Or should it plunge headlong into the chaos and cacophony while transforming the way we see it and live in it?

Using the works of both dead and contemporary artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, Simon seeks answers to these profound questions. His conclusion is imbued with hope: despite all the travails of the present, by engaging with the here-and-now, art still offers civilisation an insight into the incomprehensibility of the world and a way to transcend its horrors with the enduring creativity of the human spirit.

6 months left to watch

59 minutes

Signed Audio described

Last on

Sat 12 May 2018 03:15

More episodes

Next

You are at the last episode

See all episodes from Civilisations

Music Played

Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes

  • 00:19

    Marilyn Monroe

    Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend

  • 00:26

    Philharmonia Orchestra

    Allegretto

  • 00:31

    Ray Charles

    Georgia On My Mind

Credits

Role Contributor
Presenter Simon Schama
Executive Producer Denys Blakeway
Executive Producer Michael Jackson
Series Producer Melanie Fall
Producer Joanna Marshall
Director Tim Niel
Writer Simon Schama
Assistant Producer Helena Hunt
Production Company Nutopia

Broadcasts

Order a free Open University poster and explore the art of different civilisations of the world

Order a free Open University poster and explore the art of different civilisations of the world

Visit OpenLearn, the OU’s home of free learning, to learn more about art history.

Civilisations season on the BBC and beyond

Civilisations season on the BBC and beyond

The season of programmes and festival exploring thousands of years of visual culture.

Mary Beard writes about bold debates, sex and how ancient Egyptian cake changed her life

Mary Beard writes about bold debates, sex and how ancient Egyptian cake changed her life

Why a new understanding of 'civilisation' matters.

Civilisations App

Civilisations App

The BBC AR app brings Civilisations treasures into your home.