Simon Schama's Power of Art

I spent the last week doped up and knackered on penicillin as a result of getting myself falling-over Thanatos drunk before Festivus. However, especially given this is the second dose, I realised that I would be semi-comatose and hinged the week around Simon Shama's Power of Art. I'm so glad that I did. Simon is an effervescent, eloquent and perceptive commentator and his presence is always authentic. The format is to hone in on a single artist and a single work, but building up such informative context that the chosen artist/work is slowly revealed to us as epiphany - just brilliant. Simon presents the following artists/works, the words are mine based on his...

Caravaggio – David with the Head of Goliath (c. 1610)

The killer Caravaggio 
Stalks the streets
With dagger, sword and brush 
He is suspended
Into our own murderous age
Repenting even to us

Bernini – Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1657)
O Cavaliere
To find a look of pain
You burnt your own body 
And did the very same 
Slashing the face of your lover
Saint Teresa in ecstasy

Rembrandt – The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis (1662)

On the banks of the Rhine
Where craft meets imagination
In the flame of an idea
Perfect finish abandoned 
For rough freedom seen
Through one blind eye

David – The Death of Marat (1793)
The liar-in-chief 
Glamourised the Terror
As classical martyr
Art propaganda
As lethal beauty
Bathed in light 

Turner – The Slave Ship (1840)
As English as a cup of tea, 
Our own odd-man-out
Released storms, plagues, destruction
The first chaos of the world
Indistinct and glorious
In a sublime blood red sunset

Van Gogh – Wheatfield with Crows (1890)

The preacher-painter-poet
Lived the life of the mind
Rebellious, opening hearts
In a drama of blue and yellow
Blood red, blue-green, 
The infernal furnace of pale sulphur

Picasso – Guernica (1937)
Sailing through chaos and hatred,
Riot and revolution
Far from the barricades
Bombs made cubes of a town
Hectic, terrifying, screaming
And stopping us dead

Rothko – Black on Maroon (1958)
“You must realize that twenty years ago we felt the moral crisis of a world in shambles, a world devastated by a great depression and a fierce world war, and it was impossible at that time to paint the kind of paintings that we were doing – flowers, reclining nudes and people playing the cello." (Barnett Newman)

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,  And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief... (T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land)


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