Art and the American Spirit: A Four-Part Film Documentary Series, online ZOOM course

The critic, artist, and philosopher John Ruskin wrote, “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.” The story of America is captured succinctly in the story of its artistic productions and the times in which they were created. In this four-week course, the instructor will use four of his documentary films to show how tracing our American artistic heritage offers insights into the historical, social, and political evolution of our country.

The films will be required advance viewing, with one each week. The director Michael Maglaras, whose films have been shown four times at the National Gallery of Art, will talk about the art of the documentary and reveal how he went about making these particular films.

  • “America Rising: The Arts of the Gilded Age” (week one) focuses on the period between the death of Abraham Lincoln in 1865 and the death of Mark Twain in 1910. Through the art of Childe Hassam, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Alfred Stieglitz, and many others, the film explores the outpouring of artistic expression that accompanied America’s transformation from a rural to an urban society. Among the highlights of this film is the only known footage of Mark Twain.
  • “Enough to Live On: The Arts of the WPA” (week two) examines government’s fostering of the arts under the aegis of the Federal Arts Project during the Great Depression. 
  • “O Brother Man: The Art and Life of Lynd Ward” (week three) looks at the seminal work of Lynd Ward, the father of the American graphic novel who predicted the Great Depression in his first groundbreaking work, Gods’ Man, and remained active into the late 1970s, treating such significant developments as the Communist scare of the 1950s and the rise of American fascism.
  •  “Civilisation and America” (week four) examines Sir Kenneth Clark’s 13-part television series Civilisation in the United States, launched in November 1970 at the height of our national internal conflict over the Vietnam War. The documentary reminds us of the ways in which our artistic heritage can help us understand who we are, where we have come from, and where we should be going.

Instructor: Michael Maglaras

Date: Wednesdays, Oct 6, 13, 20, 27 

Time: 6:00-7:30 pm

Location: ZOOM online course 

Cost: $115

Art, History