Friday, October 10, 2008


I don’t watch a great deal of television, apart from devouring the cricket matches on Sky. The other night however, I recorded a repeat of a programme by Simon Schama, the Historian. It was part of a series he had done in 2006 on the Power of Art, and this hour long programme was about one painting – Picasso’s "Guernica". It's the artist's reponse to the Spanish Civil War, and an episode where the Nazi Air Force bombed a defenceless Spanish town one afternoon, destroying it and killing around 2,000 people - a massive painting which forces you to face the atrocities of war.

Now until now, I’d spent 62 years never “getting” Picasso. I could admire his drawing and his draughtsmanship, but none of his paintings drilled their way into my soul the way many pieces of music have managed.

So I sat down the next evening while I ate my evening meal, and set the replay going. An hour later, my meal was stone cold and the glass of Sauvignon had warmed up horribly. I was quite transfixed by what I’d been watching, unable to take my eyes off it. And for the last day or so, I’ve been replaying bits of the programme in my mind, as the images and bits of commentary came back to me.


You wouldn’t think you could talk for an hour about one painting, but we got the history, the context, the view of the painting from inside Picasso’s mind, and an explosive exposition of why it was painted and what it meant to the world. The programme was named “The Power of Art”, and that’s exactly what it was. It insisted you look at it.

Schama’s previous series on “A History of Britain” had already shown me our own country’s history in a vivid and memorable way, a way that one wished had been around when one was at school. He put it in context, put the humanity into it and presented it in a way that brought the whole thing across alive and kicking. I’ve no doubt the academic fuddy-duddies would whinge about the way he did it all, but as one of the Great Unwashed in this area, I thought it was a remarkable achievement. But somehow or other I missed the follow up series on Art where he picked 8 paintings and gave us his view of each of them in 60 minute chunks.

Last night, his Picasso repeat was more of the same. It was a bit like the effect a Music Teacher, Ted Amos, had on me at school. I went into his class as a musical philistine, and after a couple of years he had totally converted me so that Music became a major part of my life. And he never ever knew what a huge change he’d made in me, which is rather sad. I read his obituary in "The Times" a few years ago, and wished I'd found a way to tell him of the change in me which he had personally brought about.

I sat last night watching a masterly exposition of somebody enthusing eloquently, knowledgably adn passionately about his subject, and as a result of what he said, and how he said it, I came out of it a bit different from an hour before. Not bad for 60 minutes television.

And I’ve now got something else to put down at the top of my Christmas list for Santa.

1 comment:

The Prickly Press said...

It’s funny; I began working on a post yesterday detailing my thoughts on Picasso. I too seemed not to really ‘get’ it and wondered why I felt compelled to. The art world is interesting. On one hand there is the perception that the community is largely open-minded, forward thinking and accepting yet on the other hand, individuals who don’t share the opinion of the community can be looked at as uninformed philistines. Through reading your post I was reminded of one of the intrinsic values of art, the discussion.