Pictures of the human body fill our TV screens, magazines, billboards, almost our every waking moment. Through the ages artists have been obsessed with the human form. The range of bodies they have created is breathtaking, but yet they share one thing in common... none of these images resembles a real human being. So why is our modern world dominated by images of the body that are unrealistic? Neuroscientists theorize this has something to do with the workings of the human brain, and point to a neurological principle known as the peak shift. In essence our brain is hard-wired to focus upon parts of objects with pleasing associations. So if you were an artist, the tendency would be to reproduce human figures with parts that mattered the most to you. Prehistoric artists were clearly caught up in peak shift tendencies, creating exaggerated statues like the famed Venus of Willendorf. For their part, the Egyptians perfected a more stylized, order-obsessed human figure, only to have the Greeks break out and create fantastically heroic — but totally unrealistic — images like the Riace Bronzes. So why then are we moderns constantly inundated by unrealistic images of the body? In reality, we humans don't really like reality - we prefer exaggerated, more human than human, images of the body. This is a shared biological instinct that appears to link us inexorably with our ancient ancestors.
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?
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.