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Civilisation with an s
February 8, 2012 5:16 AM   Subscribe

Civilisation: A Personal View by Kenneth Clark is a 13-part documentary produced by the BBC that was first aired on in 1969. It is considered to be a landmark in British Television's broadcasting of the visual arts. Here's the entire series (13 one-hour episodes) on YouTube. This is a treat for those of you who like History of Art, especially so if you haven't yet got around to seeing it.

Episodes:

1. The Skin of our Teeth
2. The Great Thaw
3. Romance and Reality
4. Man - the Measure of all Things
5. The Hero as Artist
6. Protest and Communication
7. Grandeur and Obedience
8. The Light of Experience
9. The Pursuit of Happiness
10. The Smile of Reason
11. The Worship of Nature
12. The Fallacies of Hope
13. Heroic Materialism
posted by baejoseph (24 comments total) 104 users marked this as a favorite

 
If the name "Kenneth Clark" rings a bell, but you can't really put a finger on it, it may be because he features on the list of Paul Graham's personal heroes.
posted by baejoseph at 5:25 AM on February 8, 2012


Thanks for the heads up, baejoseph!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:32 AM on February 8, 2012


Yup. Thanks
posted by the noob at 5:35 AM on February 8, 2012


baejoseph: If the name "Kenneth Clark" rings a bell
Or you could be thinking of Ken Clarke, the British Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice... maybe, (might just be me).
posted by hudders at 6:20 AM on February 8, 2012


I remember first watching this in middle school in the 70's. I was a small town kid in the desert with one small library and without any access to museums and other cultural edifices. It greatly sparked my interest in the humanities.

Now how to get the daughter to watch these? She won't be watching them at her middle school - the school that considers "The Hunger Games" literature.
posted by incandissonance at 6:41 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


SO is trudging through a PhD in Art History. Will advise, thanks!
posted by obscurator at 6:57 AM on February 8, 2012


I just flipped through his golden-Charlemagned book the other night. Good stuff. I like his "I know it when I see it" approach to defining civilization. Other efforts at definition by anthropologists/sociologists aspire to be scientific but, owing to political correctness (it's like there's an unwritten factor to their definitions that every populated continent MUST have a "civilization" so we can have a chapter on that), they are over-inclusive and nigh meaningless.
posted by resurrexit at 7:07 AM on February 8, 2012


I see that the same guy has posted the entire series of The Ascent of Man, a similar landmark series on the history of science.
posted by philipy at 7:16 AM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


On a related note, writer John Berger wrote a book Ways of Seeing which is in many ways a Marxist rebuttal of many of the central arguments presented in Civilisation. This was also made into a BBC series
Ways of Seeing
, which is also on Youtube.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:17 AM on February 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


"I like his "I know it when I see it" approach to defining civilization. "

But implicit in him knowing it when he sees it that he gets to tell everyone else about it because he has a TV show. It matters whether he sees it or not, because of his stuats and position. His authority grants his words more weight. In other words, it's civilization to all of us because he sees it, but not because he's explained to us how we can see it. It's subjectivity masked as objectivity.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:29 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pastabagel, but the show is even called "a personal view", it's pretty clear that the show is one man's view on European culture and that isn't masked at all.
posted by atrazine at 7:36 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also available in hi-def
posted by robself at 7:48 AM on February 8, 2012


Resurrexit, can you elaborate? Which populated continent does not possess a civilization?
posted by johnasdf at 7:51 AM on February 8, 2012


In high school one of my favorite classes was Civilization 12, which was based on this series. Watch an episode, spend the next couple weeks talking about it.
posted by Keith Talent at 7:53 AM on February 8, 2012



Pastabagel, but the show is even called "a personal view", it's pretty clear that the show is one man's view on European culture and that isn't masked at all.
posted by atrazine at 10:36 AM on February 8


What's masked is that it's this man's view, and not someone else's. It doesn't matter that it's Clark's personal view. It matters that the BBC picked Clark to give his views on their network to their audience, which happens to be the entire country. It may be that Clark is the authority on the subject, and that his opinions therefore do count. But consider whether he is the authority precisely because he is on television.

To shape public opinion, you don't have to have the best or most persuasive opinion. You simply have to control the means through which opinions are communicated to the public.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:01 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's masked is that it's this man's view, and not someone else's.

I'll bite. Who is the "someone else's" view being represented in Civilization? Sounds like a conspiracy theory.
posted by stbalbach at 8:32 AM on February 8, 2012


The main thing is don't end up on a small continent with Shaka.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:18 AM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Agh! I had to watch these in my Western Civ. class in grade 11 (1991) We all hated them, and would mock Kenneth Clark at every opportunity.
posted by sadtomato at 9:35 AM on February 8, 2012


It's subjectivity masked as objectivity.

No, it's subjectivity labeled explicitly as subjectivity. "A personal view" pretty much rules out any claim to "objectivity."

You would be on stronger ground if you were to argue that Clarke's subjective opinion is one that is fairly representative of his socioeconomic class and that it contains implicit political assumptions which one might reasonably find objectionable.

But there's absolutely nothing in the packaging of the show that suggests that this is the one true and self-evident account of the development of Civilization. In fact it's surprising (especially in the time in which it was produced) just how strenuously they work to insist that this is one man's version of history rather than simply a canonical account. The program is never discussed as simply "Civilisation" or "the BBC's Civilisation"--it's always "Kenneth Clark's Civilisation."
posted by yoink at 10:05 AM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's subjectivity masked as objectivity.

I suppose what I thought I said was that subjectivity is always going to be our best approximation, so it's the pseudo-scientific academics that are actually guilty of what you allege (and maybe Clark is, too, but there's at least the "personal view" part, which you'll never hear admitted in a published journal article).

Which populated continent does not possess a civilization?

It depends on how it's defined. Sorry I can't be more specific!

Also, if you guys like this sort of mile-wide-inch-deep survey, you might also like this book, which arranges cultures/civilizations by their environment. Pretty neat.
posted by resurrexit at 10:29 AM on February 8, 2012


His book on the Nude is a really smart, really magisterial history of the genre, a kind of art history that isn't really done anymore.
posted by PinkMoose at 12:46 PM on February 8, 2012


When I was in college in the 1990s it was all Marxism, post-structuralism, feminism, post-colonialism etc etc. These are all correct, of course. I saw Clark's series recently and realised I should have watched this first, because all those points of view make much more sense when you have seen the aristocratic, liberal humanist, white British male creating a elitist linear narrative. Until I saw Clark, I couldn't really understand who all those literary theorists were so angry at, since everyone seemed to be on the same side.

This is indeed entitled, Civilization, A Personal View. Clark knows a lot about art, and he's put together a 13 hour series where he gives his point of view intelligently with lots of lovely colour pictures. It may only be his story, but it is a beautiful narrative he weaves. It is a wonderful piece of art itself.
posted by Gomoryhu at 1:38 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


On my left, Sir Kenneth Clark on bass sax. "A great honour, sir".
posted by ovvl at 6:46 PM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


A fantastic reflection at the end of Episode 7, wherein Clark expresses his "misgivings" about art and architecture of the Reformation:
...At least they weren't mean and furtive like some modern millionaires. But their contributions to civilisation was limited to this kind of visual exuberance. A sense of grandeur is no doubt a human instinct, but carried too far it becomes inhuman. I wonder if a single thought that has helped forward the human spirit has ever been conceived or written down in an enormous room.
This series is definitely doing wonders to help pass my otherwise interminable workday...
posted by obscurator at 7:18 AM on February 9, 2012


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