Art and Civilizations

I just started watching Civilizations on PBS, and it’s already a marvelous wonder. In the very first minutes, the horrifying story of Khaled al-Asaad‘s murder by ISIS members for refusing to divulge the hidden whereabouts of the art he spent much of his life caring for is starkly told. But the big picture is that of how important art is to our humanity.

A lot of us spend our days talking about art—I doubt very much if very many of us are prepared to lay down our life for it. For Khaled al-Asaad, the stones and statues and columns of Palmyra were more than simply an ensemble of antiquity, they were the expression of what the creative imagination could do to make a city home.

— Simon Schama

A bit later, there’s this, about the earliest sparks of artistic impulse—at least, the ones left behind and found, so far—that speak to the definitive nature of art’s place in making us what we are.

Other kinds of animals make tools. Other kinds of animals may have some kind of language. We know that other animals have extremely complex social organizations. But what about art? I think we can see art as being maybe one of the only ways that we can imagine humans to be distinctively different.

—Maya Jasanoff

PBS.org is streaming this currently, watch this before it expires.