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DVD Review: This is Civilization

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One of the fondest memories of my youth is visiting an art museum. It was my first exposure to “real” art and I was fascinated by the different types of artwork: oil paintings, sculptures, and modern art. There was artwork spanning many different time periods and it was fascinating to see the differences in how Van Gogh saw the world versus how Monet saw the world. I remember spending tons of time staring at the artwork of Monet and Renoir who are, to this day, my favorite artists.

This is Civilization debuts on DVD from Athena June 19, 2012. Host Matthew Collings, travels the world from London to Beijing in this four-part documentary, a contemporary update to BBC’s 1969 Civilization series.

Originally premiering on the Ovation Channel in March, 2009, this latest update presents a greater focus on non-Western art than the original series. This is Civilization was shot on location in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, China, Turkey, Egypt and the United States. 

The series follows the various historical influences that have impacted and shaped artwork. Factors such as emotion, money, and politics all play a part in the types of art created during any given time period.

Episode 1 “Ye Gods” examines the bronze dieties created by ancient Greeks and contrasts them to the saints and saviors portrayed by early Christians. This episode also examines other ways in which religion is reflected in both art historically and in present day. Episode 2 “Feelings” is the story of two artists – Jacques-Louis David and Francisco Goya. David’s paintings were influenced by the French Revolution and Goya’s paintings portrayed monsters and suffering as his reaction to the Napoleonic Wars.

Episode 3 “Save our Souls” looks at 19th Century artist John Ruskin, who took a stand against urbanization and the factories that were becoming more and more common in this time period. Also examined are the landscapes of JMW Turner, pre-Raphaelite paintings and even Gothic building practices. Episode 4 “Uncertainty” looks at how advancements have impacted existing traditions and institutions, and how this has translated into today’s modern art.

This is Civilization is a lesson in not only art but also in history. Matthew Collings presents the documentary in a way that makes these lessons interesting and understandable. Because this program is shot on location, you get a real-life look at these works of art in their original home. I love that the series explores art in general, encompassing both classical art and modern art in a variety of media, including  paintings, photography, pagan sculpture, architecture, and much more.

The handy 12-page viewers guide with articles including “Muse vs Master,” “Living in the Material World,” and the “Art of War” add even more resources for understanding art history. Also included are biographies of featured artists plus discussion questions and a timeline at athenalearning.com. This DVD set is not only fun, it would make a great homeschool resource.

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About Ellen Christian

Ellen is a busy mom of two teenagers who left the corporate world in 2008 to focus on a more eco-friendly life. She lives in rural Vermont where she juggles family, two blogs and a career in social media. You can find her at http://www.confessionsofanover-workedmom.com/ and http://the-socialites-closet.blogspot.com/.