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As part of BBC's agenda to generate public awareness about art history's relevance to contemporary culture, the documentary series How Art Made the World
is a landmark. Host Dr. Nigel Spivey, a Classical Archaeology professor from Cambridge, asserts over five episodes that not only have cultures thrived according to their abilities to communicate visually, but also that, though art, we can historically trace human needs and desires because our minds drive us to create images. Questioning how and why art influences society, Spivey employs art criticism, archaeology, political theory, and anthropology in order to posit theories in each hour-long segment. Episode one, "More Human than Human," traces our obsession with the human body by analyzing the Venus of Willendorf, Egyptian art, and Ancient Greece's preoccupation with athleticism. "The Day Pictures Were Born" discusses the birth of cave painting. "The Art of Persuasion" contextualizes Tony Blair and George W Bush's political communication strategies with those in ancient cultures. "To Death and Back" ponders our preoccupation with death. "Once Upon A Time", the highlight in the series, insightfully connects our fascination with feature films to the cultural beginnings of storytelling. Starting with Mesopotamia's birth of the written tale, the Grecian invention of theater, and the Assyrian invention of pictorial narrative, this episode also stars BBC champion David Attenborough discussing the Australian Aborigine's use of art to trigger ancient cultural memories and myths. Potent, smart, and interdisciplinary, this series, filmed mostly on location for full effect, really does prove that culture dictates art. --Trinie Dalton