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Which clippings match 'Western Culture' keyword pg.1 of 1
29 JANUARY 2016

Why Man Creates: the great (Western) progress narrative

"How unlikely that one of the least definable films from the last half-century would also be one of the most beloved. A favorite of classroom AV diversions, and an abridged presentation on the very first episode of '60 Minutes' helped make it the most viewed educational film of all time. 'I don't know what it all means,' Saul Bass himself admitted, and his 'Why Man Creates' (1968) is far more loose and playful than the rigid thesis its title might imply. In fact, it is the searching and open-ended nature of the various vignettes that perhaps makes the film resonate so strongly with viewers. Though an Oscar®-winner for Documentary Short Subject, the film is almost entirely invented, apart from recollections of old masters like Edison, Hemingway and Einstein, and brief encounters with scientists striving to innovate for the betterment of mankind. Creators invariably encounter problems, and have no choice but to persevere in the face of discouragement. If the film argues anything, it is that the unbridled pursuit of new ideas makes us uniquely human."

(Sean Savage)



1968Albert Einstein • Alfred Nobel • American Revolution • Ancient Greeceanimated filmArab • birth of civilization • cancer research • cave painting • cavemen • celebrating human achievement • creative inspirationcreativitydark ages • development of writing • dynamite • early humans • Ernest Hemingway • Euclid • Great Pyramids at Giza • Greek achievements • hand-drawn animationhistory of ideashuman civilizationinvention of the wheelinventiveness • James Bonner • Jesse Greenstein • Leonardo da VincilibertyLouis PasteurLudwig van Beethovenman • mathematical discovery • Mayo Simon • Michelangelo • nature of creativity • nature of justice • organised labour • origin of the universe • Paul Saltman • pioneering mathematicsprogress narratives • pursuit of happiness • religion • Renato Dulbecco • Saul Bassscience historyscientific progressThomas EdisonvignetteWestern culture • Why Man Creates (1968) • zero


Simon Perkins
31 JULY 2013

Was Ways of Seeing the first pre-digital book?

"Everyone is talking about the way in which digital media is destabilizing print. I thought it was interesting to choose the reverse scenario: something that started digital but found its real audience in print. Ways of Seeing started as a four–part television series on the BBC in England conceived of and written by art critic John Berger. Berger was reacting specifically to the traditional connoisseurship of Kenneth Clark in the Civilisation series, another famous television program, which inscribed the canonical march of Western culture in heroic terms. As a critique of Clark, Berger created a popular reading of the icons of western art not as aesthetic objects, but deeply cultural artifacts that reveal, upon close 'reading', the limitation, prejudice, bias, and obsession of the culture from which they sprang.

This form of cultural criticism was established in the Universities, especially Marxist leaning polytechnics, but had never before had such a popular airing. The idea that classic paintings could be decoded to reveal social facts–and in fact Berger compared them to modern advertising–was heretical and his work was met with incredulity and anger in the hallowed halls of University Art History departments around the country, But Berger's position, especially his proto–feminist critique of female nudes, would grow to become the dominant form of art criticism in the years ahead.

The television program had moderate success but shortly after it aired Berger joined with producer Mike Dibb and graphic designer Richard Hollis to produce a printed version of the televised series. Clark had also produced a book to accompany Civilisation: a huge, lavish, full–color coffee table monster that must have weighted 10 kilos. In contrast Berger, Dibb and Hollis produced a slim paperback, 127 x 203mm, of only 166 pages. Even more radical, the book was produced in black + white, reducing the famous art to mere notations on standard, uncoated paper of a trade book. It was published by the BBC Books under the Pelican Books imprint, a division of the venerable Penguin Press organized to publish books to educate rather than entertain the reading public.

Even more striking was the book's design. Hollis starts the text of the first essay on the cover: 'Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.' This simple typographic trick gives the book both a certain modesty (saves on pages) and an urgency (no time to waste). Starting on the outside also suggests a digital quality, the content is broadcast to the reader even as they pass the shelf.

The interior is equally unusual. Hollis set the entire book in a bold sans serif font, a very unlikely choice and aggressively un–civilized. There is no nod to classicism, the book is an entirely modern form. The text is broken down into short bursts, usually no more than a paragraph coupled with a visual example. Again reflecting its origin as a televisual experience the text and images work simultaneously, one form leveraging the other. There are five such text–and–image essays on everything from renaissance nudes to modern advertising. But Berger also adds for entirely visual essays. He assembles a series of examples that by the power of his selection and through their aggressive juxtaposition, he makes his thesis without any words at all. In so doing he presages the development of the curated playlist as a predominant contemporary form and creates the first pre–digital book."

(Michael Rock, 2011, 2x4)



2011 • 2x4 • aesthetic objectsart criticismart history • BBC Books • BBC Twoblack and white • canonical march • Civilisation (series) • contemporary form • cultural artefactscultural criticism • curated playlist • destabilising force • digital media • digital quality • educate rather than entertain • end of print • famous art • female nudes • heroic terms • John Bergerjuxtaposition • Kenneth Clark • Michael Rock • Mike Dibb • modern advertising • modern form • modestypaperback • Pelican Books • Penguin Random Housepolytechnic • pre-digital book • print and digitalprinted version • proto-feminist critique • renaissance nudes • Richard Hollis • sans-serif typeface • seeing comes before words • short formsocial factstelevision programmetelevision seriestelevisual experiencetext and image • trade book • typographic trick • uncoated paper • urgency • visual culturevisual essayWays of Seeingwestern artWestern culture


Simon Perkins
20 OCTOBER 2012

Alain Resnais and Chris Marker's: Les Statues meurent aussi

"Les Statues meurent aussi, co–directed with Alain Resnais. This 30 minute short film has a chequered history of censorship that at one time elevated it to a somewhat mythical status (2), and which prevented it from being brought into the wider public eye until some 16 years after it was completed. After its first screening at the Cannes Film Festival in 1953, and in spite of winning the Prix Jean Vigo in 1954, Les Statues meurent aussi was banned in France by the Centre National de la Cinématographie between 1953 and 1963 owing to its controversial anti–colonialist stance (3). While a truncated version was made available in 1963, the unabridged film only became available in 1968.

Les Statues meurent aussi was commissioned by the literary review and publishing house, Présence Africaine, which was set up in 1947 in Paris as a quarterly literary review for emerging and important African writers. Founded by the Senegalese thinker Alioune Diop, it housed the writings of some of the most important francophone thinkers in the latter half of the 20th century, such as Aimé Césaire, Ousmane Sembene, Léopold Sédar Senghor, in addition to French metropolitan writers such as Jean–Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. The journal also translated groundbreaking works by Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka into French for the first time. Having emerged so soon after the new French Constitution of 1946 had declared a 'French Union', Présence Africaine's publications signalled a new, post–colonial status for French and francophone thought, embracing what was then a key notion: that of négritude (4). It is this notion that the second half of Les Statues meurent aussi engages with most deeply, and perhaps most controversially, especially as it strives to connect the death of the statue with the rise in the commercialisation of African art for the pleasure of the colonial classes. Indeed, it is against the backdrop of a France that had so recently lost its colonial power, but which still retained many of the quasi–Manichean distinctions between white, Western culture and black, African culture, that (and in spite of their claims to the contrary) Resnais and Marker's film projected its passionately anti–colonial, anti–racist, even anti–capitalist audio–visual collage. It is little wonder then that such a film should have been censored until the late 1960s, by which time it might have lost some of its topicality, but none of its political vigour."

(Jenny Chamarette, 14 September 2009, Senses of Cinema)

[1] Sarah Cooper, Chris Marker, Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York, 2008. As Cooper points out, Les Statues meurent aussi is available as an extra on the French DVD release of Resnais' Hiroshima mon amour, Arte France and Argos Films, 2004.

[2] See Roy Armes' entry on Les Statues meurent aussi in his The Cinema of Alain Resnais, A. Zwemmer/A.S. Barnes, London and New York, 1968, p. 34.

[3] This is heavily documented in scholarship on Marker and Resnais. In particular, see Cooper, p. 12; Emma Wilson, Alain Resnais, Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York, 2006, pp. 22–4; Nora M. Alter, Chris Marker, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, Chicago, 2006, pp. 58–9.

[4] For further details see V.Y. Mudimbe (ed.), The Surreptitious Speech: 'Présence Africaine' and the Politics of Otherness, 1947–87, Chicago University Press, Chicago, 1992, pp. 3–4.



1953 • African art • African cultureAlain Resnaisanti-capitalism • anti-colonial • anti-colonialist • anti-racist • audiovisual • audiovisual collage • censorship • Centre National de la Cinematographie • Chris Marker • colonial classes • colonial powercommercialisationcritique • death of the statue • European imperialismfilmfilm essayFranceintercultural • Les Statues meurent aussi • negritude • post-colonial • post-colonialismpostcolonial • Presence Africaine • Senses of Cinema (journal)statue • Statues Also Die • Western culture


Simon Perkins

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