I watched 'Private Life of a Masterpiece' after watching Nigel Spivey's 'How Art Made the World'.
Compared with Spivey, this was a vast improvement, if only because it actually presents more actual works of art to the viewer and because the presentation assums that the audience are as interested, knowledgable, and experienced about "art" and "art theory" as the speakers. This is a series made by adults for adults. Hurrah!
Each episode focuses on a specific work of art. The work is presented in some detail (although I would have liked more time just looking at the art without commentary but I guess someone in charge of the editing must have decided that would make for boring telly (but not for art-lovers it wouldn't, doh!) so we also get lots of comments from various talking heads who have something to say about the work from some perspective e.g. restoration, history of art, interpretation etc.
What each talking head says is intelligent and interesting but not earth-shattering. We do not get a developed presentation from anyone about what they think "art" is. We do not get a "theory" or "ethics" of "art" as we do from Kenneth Clark in 'Civilisation' or Robert Hughes in 'Mona Lisa Curse'. We do not get a debate. We do not get much in the way of originality. It is all a bit forgetable (apart from the art).
Each episode (and the series as a whole) is quite diffuse without an overall narrative to pull things together - seeing the work of art is the thing that anchors each episode/the whole series so you get returned back to the "art itself" over and over. From these clues you have to make up your own narrative and work out your own opinion from the comments on offer. Its a kind of DIY telly that will appeal to intelligent people who like to make up their editorial.
The overall impression is of something worthy but dull. It is more authoritative than Spivey's controversial 'How Art Made The World' but less stimulating. It is far less engaging than the much more ambitious and entertaining and passionate works of Clark or Hughes. Give me them over this any day but this is okay in a dull dentist's waiting room kind of way, you know if you want to pass time in a vaguely art-associated way and don't want to expend energy being annoyed by Spivey or charmed by Clark.
I would say add it to your collection of DVDs on art criticism (although the price is a bit steep for what you get... maybe ask for it as a present from kindly chums and keep your own pocket money to buy the much more rewarding and value-for-money Clark's 'Civilisation' or something by Robert Hughes instead).
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