Kenneth Clark’s “Civilisation”: Priceless Lessons from “A Stick in the Mud”

I am posting this and another recent article on the other cultural history series for comparison -“The Ascent of Man” by Jacob Bronowski also worth revisiting

On Art and Aesthetics

Civilisation by Kenneth Clark (1969, John Murray)

I first heard of Kenneth Clark (1903-1983)—the British art historian best known for his 13-part BBC documentary series Civilisation (1969)—in 2011. I watched all the episodes some time in 2012 but only recently went through the companion volume Civilisation: A Personal View. Clark, who had served as the director of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and the National Gallery in London, presents a sweeping and fascinating survey of Western Europe in this project—from the fall of the Roman Empire up till the post-Marxist situation. He makes sense of society through the lens of art (mostly visual and concrete) and offers a subjective assessment of the flow of ideas.

I am yet to come across another documentary on history and culture that matches the class and sophistication of this one. The title of the series was troubling for the art historian and broadcaster. While the…

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