The British love the Gothic. And whether we realise it or not, our lives are steeped in this, the most foreboding and sinister of aesthetics. From Shakespeare and Dickens to William Blake and The Cure, it haunts our internal and external lives.
Cathedrals, churches and administrative buildings up and down the country are stamped with the tell-tale markings of pointed arches and ribbed vaults which describe the form. Even politics can’t escape its touch. Could there be a more fitting home for the vampiric creatures that legislate our lives than that masterpiece of Gothic construction the Palace of Westminster?
Gothic thought has sunk its fangs into our literature, art and music; bonding with our culture so completely that to remove it would change the entire landscape of the nation on a mental as well as physical level. The Gothic is such an integral part of our little corner of the world we never question its presence or even ask where it came from? In the new BBC4 series ‘The Art of Gothic’, Culture Show stalwart (amongst many other things) Andrew Graham-Dixon seeks to answer this question, and in three fascinating episodes he takes a jolly good stab (hack, slash) at it.
‘Art of Gothic’ starts with an overview of the style and the beginning of its assembly at the hand of the Georgian Gentleman. It then goes onto analyse and weave together the different strands of Gothic’s origins including Romanesque and Renaissance Art; the religious reconstruction of The Reformation and the influence of Marxism. Graham-Dixon guides us through these different movements examining works by, amongst others, Salvator Rosa, John Ruskin and of course Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker.
Graham-Dixon to my mind is one of our best arts commentators; I always enjoy his points of view even when I do not agree with him and in fact that’s when I like him most. His light hearted demeanour and cheeky assertions are designed to provoke thought in the viewer. Never truly dogmatic,
Graham-Dixon just wants you to think about what he is talking about, mull it over in your own way and actually learn something.
Thus ‘The Art of Gothic’ is that rare thing in modern television; entertaining, intelligent and challenging. There is no assumption of prior knowledge but also no presumption that the viewer is stupid and doesn’t want to learn.
This kind of show is another demonstration of the importance of BBC4. To me it is the high watermark of Television, and ‘Auntie’ could do a lot worse than give Anthony Graham-Dixon free reign, especially with his fancy new haircut.
The Art of Gothic will be broadcast on 27 October on BBC 4