Art of the Western World (DVD Review)

Man, it’s only been twenty years (more, actually) since Art of the Western World made its premiere on PBS, but now it makes that leap over to the DVD format. I had no idea it was this old, but had heard the chatter that went along with describing the show. I never saw it, but had heard great things about. Well, we’re now going to cover it on Why So Blu. Art of the Western World is packaged into three dvds along with a booklet. You may not have wanted to pay attention in class, but now you can bring the world of art to your home with this set. Let’s take it back to 1989, shall we.  



Art of the Western World is a PBS documentary that aired way back in 1989 and was hosted by Michael Wood. It’s now available on DVD and focuses on the art progression of the civilized Western world down through the centuries. In fact, it covers over two thousand years of art progression. The DVD set is split into 3-discs and contain 9 hours of programming.

The first episode takes the viewer on a tour of Rome where their architecture and civil engineering would be the basis of everything that followed afterward. We then shift to episode two where we touch on Romanesque and Gothic art with regards to the churches of the times. After that we hit the Early Renaissance period where classical themes are merged with Christian values; and along came the oil paints in which would be the new medium to create with.

Episode four takes to the High Renaissance period that was popular in Venice that brought Rome back to the center of art. It was a place where the greats (that later became the greatest of all time) became enamored with the theater, nature, and the classical style; that eventually ended up in their own works. From there we focus on The Baroque – which used a much more exaggerated version of movement and was actually approved for major use by the church. Everything produced around this time period was done up in the baroque style which spread from Rome to the rest of Europe. We are quickly whisked away to the “Age of Reason” which shows us that society revolted against decadence and corruption. Artists turned their backs to the classics of Greece. Instead, they set their sights on individual expression.

Episode seven gives us the rise of the impressionist age; also being some of the most familiar images of the art world. Postimpressionism would soon follow and that changed the landscape with their bold use of color. At the dawn of the 20th century, science and technology influenced the world with the fauves and cubism movement. The final episode deals with the explosion of the art world that led everyone to New York. It became the home to abstract impressionism which had artists like Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol running about creating works of art.

Art of the Western World isn’t really dense at all, but I also don’t recommend you trying to do a marathon viewing of the show like I did. A couple of hours here and there are okay. I had a great time watching the program and consider this DVD set a keeper.

Episode 1

The Classical Ideal

Episode 2

A White Garment of Churches: Romanesque and Gothic Art

Episode 3

The Early Renaissance

Episode 4

The High Renaissance

Episode 5

Realms of Light: The Baroque

Episode 6

An Age of Reason, an Age of Passion

Episode 7

A Fresh View: Impressionism and Postimpressionism

Episode 8

Into the 20th Century

Episode 9

In Our Own Time


Art of the Western World is presented in 480p (upscaled), 4X3 fullscreen format. Yes, the years have not been kind to this series, but what are you gonna do? Unless it gets a full restoration it will never look as good as it deserves to. Keep in mind that it’s an almost twenty year old program. On the positive side of things, it does well as an archive of art history.


Art of the Western World is presented in stereo at 192kbps. Like the video, unless it gets a restored soundtrack, this one will have to do. Then again, it is a documentary, so a full blown lossless soundtrack would probably not matter. Dialogue levels are nice and balanced and I never had trouble listening to what Michael Wood had to say, nor the scholars that gave the tours. It’s decent.

Special Features

The special features included in the Art of the Western World package are okay. They include biographies of some of the major artists, fun facts about the paintings, and an awesome 20 page booklet that is required reading.

  • 20-page viewer’s guide with an interview with executive producer Perry MillerAdato; a history of frescoes; articles on the windows of Chartres Cathedral, the Paris salons, pop-art controversy, and great artworks lost to history; and a timeline of artistic movements
  • Biographies of major artists and of Michael Wood
  • Fun facts about oil paints, poems by Michaelangelo, and discussion questions at athenalearning.com

Final Thoughts 

Whether you’re an artist, art historian, amateur art historian, or anything in between, Art of the Western World is a very important documentary on the history of art that has survived the ages. If you want to know where (from a civilized point of view) it came from then this set is required viewing. Enjoy!



Order Art of the Western World on DVD!



Gerard Iribe is a writer/reviewer for Why So Blu?. He has also reviewed for other sites like DVD Talk, Project-Blu, and CHUD, but Why So Blu? is where the heart is. You can follow his incoherency on Twitter: @giribe

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