Saturday, 2 January 2010

Civilisation 9: The Pursuit of Happiness: 1

I put the first episode of Civilisation up on my blog because it showed the fragility of cultures and societies. It showed us some very interesting cultural artefacts. I suppose the ones that seemed more important to me were the examples of Celtic design in the Book of Kells. 

I was tempted to try and upload all of series, but I think that would be madness. So, it was best to be selective. I thought that I would race through the centuries and series and look at episode nine and the 18th Century.  In the “The Pursuit of Happiness” Kenneth Clark reflects on the nature of 18th century music, the work of Bach, Handel, Haydn, and Mozart. He discusses the painter Watteau and considers that some of its qualities are found in Rococo architecture. In 18th century music “- its melodious flow, its complex symmetry, its decorative invention- are reflected in the architecture; but not its deeper appeal to the emotions” (Clark, K, 1969 p. 221). The discussion of the ornate design of Rococo is fascinating, because Clark makes the argument that “the Rococo style has a place in civilisation” (1969, p.221). Clarke complains that “serious minded used to call it shallow and corrupt, chiefly because it was intended for pleasure; well the founders of the American Constitution who were far from frivolous, thought fit to mention the pursuit of happiness as a proper aim of mankind, and even if ever this aim has been given visible form it is in Rococo architecture- the pursuit of happiness and the pursuit of love” (Clark, K, 1969 p. 221).

Clark does discuss the style that preceded Rococo, the classical style that was a symbol of a rigid and centralised authoritarian government. Classicism was, is the architecture of bureaucrats, “gifted civil servants” and not craftsmen- “grandeur achieved through the authoritarian state” and is the “architecture of a great metropolitan culture” (Clark, K, 1969 p. 221). There is in classicism a coldness and a “certain inhumanity”, that we see inform the architecture of power in the 20th Century and beyond. The differences between classicism and the rococo recall an earlier observation by Clark about Greek classicism. It is, Clark argues, “static and cold” in comparison with the mobility of the symbol of the Atlantic man, the Viking ship (Clark, 1969 p.14). 

Clark, K (1969) Civilisation: A personal view. London: BBC/J. Murray

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