Sunday, November 30, 2014
On both sides of the Atlantic (particularly in the English-speaking world), there is still a great deal of interest in Winston Churchill. He is considered an inspirational figure by many (including myself), who is often compared to Lincoln in both his wartime leadership and - to a large degree - his extraordinary way with words. Both had the ability to win public support for their war with powerful rhetorical language and persuasive speaking, and Winston Churchill won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his memoirs.
His gift with words is undoubtedly a big part of his memoirs' popularity, but there is also the fact that his life story itself is unusually interesting; especially the most visible accomplishment of his being the British prime minister during World War II. But there's more to his story than the high-profile portion of his life; and if you're interested in hearing some other important parts, there are some movies available from which to get some info. I should give a disclaimer that I'm only aware of two movies - I have not read Mr. Churchill's memoirs, and I do not claim to be anything approaching an expert about his life. But I have some important information to offer about these two movies, and hope that this will help anyone interested in Mr. Churchill.
Monday, November 17, 2014
"Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts: the book of their deeds, the book of their words, and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others. But of the three, the only trustworthy one is the last."
- John Ruskin, a 19th-century art critic
So I recently finished watching Kenneth Clark's "Civilisation" (spelled the British way), a documentary series about the history of Western art. Before I begin my review of it, I should give a disclaimer that I know virtually nothing about visual art - I have never taken an art class, nor a photography class, nor an art history class. I play a little piano and do a little writing, so I have some experience with non-visual arts after a fashion; but I know next to nothing about the more visual arts. I don't even particularly like looking at most art, lacking an appreciation for it; and in my adulthood, I found out the reason why: I have, quite simply, very little visual intelligence. When taking tests of my intelligence, I scored in the medium range for math and in somewhat higher ranges for language - scores which corresponded to my later scores on the GRE's - but I tested in the bottom 1 percent of the population for visual-spatial intelligence. This would explain why I've never been that interested in scenery, or why I didn't like my geometry class in high school - I am just not a visual person.
I am, however, a history buff; which is what attracted me to this series. I thought I'd shore up this intellectual weakness of mine by learning about art history, which is an excellent prism for talking about the history of mankind generally. Kenneth Clark opens this series with an interesting quote from John Ruskin, the 19th-century art critic, who said: "Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts: the book of their deeds, the book of their words, and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others. But of the three, the only trustworthy one is the last." This may be overstating the case a little bit - I often find words a trustworthy way of understanding people, and deeds even moreso. (In the admittedly cliché words of an old saying: "Actions speak louder than words.") But nonetheless, you can find out a lot about a people by studying their art. It tells you a lot about their values, their ideas, and their culture; and art history is thus an excellent way to gain insight into a people.