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How Art Made the World

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About the Series

HOW ART MADE THE WORLD, a lively and provocative investigation into the far-reaching influence of art on society, airs on PBS over five consecutive Mondays, June 26-July 24, 2006. Check local listings. Acclaimed art historian and University of Cambridge lecturer Dr. Nigel Spivey hosts.

Dr. Spivey takes viewers on a quest to comprehend mankind's unique capacity to understand and explain the world through artistic symbols. Speaking in colorful, non-technical language and aided by state-of-the-art computer graphics, Spivey explores the latest thinking by historians, neuroscientists and psychologists regarding the deep-seated and universal human desire to create art.

Each one-hour episode begins with a modern-day mystery that Spivey seeks to untangle through examinations of some of the most exquisite artifacts ever discovered. Combining aspects of history, archeology, forensics, sociology and aesthetics, Spivey leads an extraordinary video expedition that spans 100,000 years and five continents: from the vast galleries of prehistoric art in the caves of Altamira and Lascaux, to astonishing Native-American and African rock paintings, to the treasures of Ancient Egypt and Classical Greece, right up to the pop culture and advertising imagery that bombards us in the digital age.

Far more than a survey of art history, HOW ART MADE THE WORLD explores the essential functions art served in early civilizations and, in some cases, still serves in modern society. Beyond that, the series seeks answers to such vexing questions as: What made our ancient ancestors create art in the first place? What are the forces that subconsciously guide the artist's hand? Why, from the very beginning, have we preferred images of the human body with distorted or exaggerated features?

"The essential premise of the show," says Spivey, "is that of all the defining characteristics of humanity as a species, none is more basic than the inclination to make art. Great apes will smear paint on canvas if they are given brushes and shown how, but they do not instinctively produce art any more than parrots produce conversation. We humans are alone in developing the capacity for symbolic imagery." In fact, scientists have found growing evidence that our brains are "hardwired" for art and that the shapes, colors and structures inherent in art originate deep within our collective psyche. The series uses the latest research to investigate the biological, social and political forces behind major artistic movements of the past. Spivey then demonstrates how these great turning points in art have reverberated through the centuries to define the visual landscape we now inhabit.

HOW ART MADE THE WORLD takes advantage of the latest computer-generated imaging (CGI) technology to bring to life the dazzling sights of the ancient world that time and humanity have destroyed. Whether it's the splendor of Persepolis or Luxor, the glory of ancient Rome or the Biblical city of Jericho, CGI allows the modern viewer to exult in sights that haven't been seen for thousands of years.

At the same time, the series' award-winning cinematographers employ cutting-edge filming techniques, including heli-cams that offer sweeping views of ancient sites from amazing new viewpoints and macro-lenses that zoom in to capture fascinating details.

Host Dr. Spivey teaches classical art and archaeology at the University of Cambridge, where he is a Fellow of Emmanuel College. His most recent publications include the series companion book How Art Made the World: A Journey to the Origins of Human Creativity (2005), Songs on Bronze: The Greek Myths Made Real (2005), The Ancient Olympics (2004) and Enduring Creation: Art, Pain, and Fortitude (2001).