Art history and visual culture is portrayed by popular media in various contexts, from blockbuster to documentary, and approached through vastly different methods, ranging from the perpetuation of popular myth to academic commentary. A dichotomy arises between representations of art history from the perspective of scholarly research and the appropriation of art history as a source for creative inspiration. A veritable academic approach is perceived to depict an accurate, factual engagement with visual culture, yet large crowds bring commercial success to sensational re-imaginings of history, despite an awareness of a removal from historical truth. However, this notion that there is a singular “real” version of art history that can be conveyed through mass media discounts the significance of cultural perception. It is significant to consider historiography itself, and how currently accepted narratives have been manipulated through the process of preservation. Therefore, there is no better way to understand this process than by examining the way in which museums and architecture, that serve as monuments to art history, function within narratives in mass media. By comparing and contrasting two films with very different approaches to art history, it is possible to understand how knowledge can be communicated in a variety of ways, with aspects of truth as well as fantasy. Alexander Sokurov’s visually stunning masterpiece, Russian Ark (2002), is a film that presents snippets of Russian history that occurred within the former palace of the Tsars over a period of 300 years, blending real historical figures and events with fantastical elements. In contrast, If Walls Could Talk (2011), a BBC documentary series hosted by curator and historian Dr. Lucy Worsley, examines the history of the home. In this deconstruction, Dr. Worsley analyzes the development of each type of room, conducting a sweeping art historical survey from the medieval period to the nineteenth century British Country House. In these films, the architecture and the depiction of art history takes centre stage, yet these presentations impart to the viewer drastically different types of knowledge and viewing experiences. As a result, this exploration of visual culture in both artistic film and academic documentary demonstrates how history can be understood through various sensibilities, and ultimately through both fact and fiction.
Grassi, Jacqueline, "Art History & Mass Media: The Role of Architecture in Narrative" (2016). 2017 Undergraduate Awards. 25.