Simon Schama is a brilliant historian who understands the problem of narrative. Photograph: BBC/Rolf Marriott/BBC
segunda-feira, 7 de outubro de 2013
The Power of Art by Simon Schama.
The Power of Art
by Simon Schama / http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/powerofart/intro.shtml
The power of the greatest art is the power to shake us into revelation and rip us from our default mode of seeing. After an encounter with that force, we don't look at a face, a colour, a sky, a body, in quite the same way again. We get fitted with new sight: in-sight. Visions of beauty or a rush of intense pleasure are part of that process, but so too may be shock, pain, desire, pity, even revulsion. That kind of art seems to have rewired our senses. We apprehend the world differently.
Art that aims that high – whether by the hand of Caravaggio, Van Gogh or Picasso – was not made without trouble and strife. Of course there has been plenty of great art created in serenity, but the popular idea that some masterpieces were made under acute stress with the artist struggling for the integrity of the conception and its realisation is not a "romantic myth" at all. A glance at how some of the most transforming works got made by human hands is an encounter with "moments of commotion".
It's those hot spots in which great risks were taken that The Power of Art brings you. Instead of trying to reproduce the un-reproducible feeling you have when you are face to face with those works in the hush of the gallery or a church, the series (and the book) drops you instead into those difficult places and unforgiving dramas when the artists managed, against the odds, to astound. "Every artist thinks he's Rembrandt", Picasso once joked, but there would come a time when he thought so himself!
All the artists in our series – and some of the contemporary artists on our website who have joined in its spirit to reflect on them – have felt part of this craft of exhilarating trouble. I hope, when you watch the programmes, you too get to feel the heat.
Improve history in schools? Put Simon Schama in every classroom
David Cameron wants Simon Schama to reshape the history curriculum. Using his storytelling talents would be a good start
theguardian.com, Wednesday 6 October 2010 / http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/oct/06/simon-schama-history-schools-david-cameron
Simon Schama is one of the UK's most brilliant historians and particularly excels at telling stories. His BBC series A History of Britain is arguably the most provocative and engaging televisual narrative of our island story ever produced. So it is no surprise that the government wants Schama to play a role in reshaping the school history curriculum. David Cameron's recent gaffe about Britain being the junior partner to the US in 1940 suggests that narrative remedial work would be useful to many, and fast. Yet narrative has its own problems and the announcement also makes me wonder if the government really understands what is going on in state schools today when it comes to history teaching.
One of the key strengths of Schama's work points to one of the problems of "narrative". Schama's take on history is a personal take. A History of Britain was precisely that: 'A' not 'The' history. I have no doubt that Schama recognises the partiality of his approach. It is the same for any historian. We do not state at the start of each book, "this is only my view" but we all know it, despite the accusations that postmodernist theorists have tried to pin on the profession.
How we deal with that is to recognise that there are many approaches to history, offer those, and recognise that they change. Schools now teach about Mary Seacole's role as a nurse in the Crimean war, where we only used to hear about Florence Nightingale. It took decades of work to give black history its proper place in our society, work which was once dismissed by the right as trendy .
Even traditional narrative histories see the revisionist effects of new research, challenging narratives that once had almost sacred status. As part of military history, the study of Ireland and the first world war is about as traditional as one can get. But the recent upsurge of interest in the role of Irish nationalists in the British army in the first world war has radically revised a dominant narrative that focused on unionist sacrifice on the Somme in 1916. Over the past two decades many historians have shown that nationalists were also there. Narratives change and so they should, which means we should all be taught to be sceptical of them.
Cameron said in the interview with Schama in the FT, which appears to have prompted this initiative: "I'm all for teaching, 'What does it feel like to be a Roman centurion?', but the problem is if you can't place it [in context]." This is nonsense. If teachers are doing what they are supposed to do, then the school curriculum is already so structured as to ensure that feelings (and "facts") are put in contexts both of the period and historical chronology. That applies from the very first history taught in schools, although there tends to be more chronology in later years if only because children need to have studied different periods before they can put them in order.
That will no doubt lead some to say that if we are to do narrative properly, then we should start at the beginning and finish at the end. But that assumes that the oldest history is the easiest, which is rarely true, especially for small children. Moreover, in any period, there will be some subjects suitable for the youngest children, while others needs to be tackled later – which is how my son, only in Year 4, is going to have a second bite at the Tudors later this year.
The potential problem with this is that some subjects are covered more frequently than others. The Tudors will often be done several times. As for non-British history, there are regularly complaints about the persistent focus on Nazi Germany at all levels of study. As a consequence, much of the 18th century gets overlooked, and there tends to be a highly selective approach to medieval history. I have seen the effects of that in my degree-level students at the five universities I have taught at. But this is partly a reflection of what has been judged to be engaging – the narratives of the Reformation or the English civil war are inherently more exciting for schoolchildren than studying the 1700s. Moreover, most would accept that they are historically more significant. If we make a choice about what to study in British history, then we have to prioritise, and when one considers that the civil war might be taught in only a few weeks, a lot is already being squeezed in.
If the government wants to make the most of Schama's expertise then I would advise that there are two options. One is to make history compulsory until children leave school, and ask him to fill up a much bigger curriculum. But they won't do that, and there are very good arguments against it. The second would be to ensure that every school has very easy access to Schama's excellent storytelling. Many schools will already have copies of his A History of Britain. But at an hour long, episodes are hard to use in lessons. So why not work with Schama and the BBC to provide bite-size chunks? Teachers could then use these as and when they see fit to bring the drama of history to the classroom as only Schama can. That would mean effectively putting him in the classroom. With such an injection of Schama's talents, the curriculum would be found to be fit for purpose already.