‘A Stick in the Mud’ pays homage to the late great Kenneth Clark, who won international acclaim for his ‘Civilisation’ series in 1969.
To be sure, Clark has his detractors.
Against him, one might say that,
- He is a mildly stuffy British lord
- He has bad teeth
- Niall Ferguson (another favorite of mine) took a shot at Clark in his latest work, “Civilization: The West and the Rest.” Ferguson argued that civilization isn’t about pictures and sculpture so much as it is about roads, banking systems, and stable governance.
Would Clark have disagreed?
I think so. All decent civilizations have roads, financial systems, and so on. Their differences in these areas would be quite instructive though I suspect we would find more similarity. The variety of artistic styles, however, shines immediate and obvious light into the values of any creative people. After all, one might make a banking system as a mere slipshod afterthought. No one would do this with a sculpture.
I heartily encourage you to try out Clark on your students. Those who do will be delighted by his insight and careful eye. Yes, your students may groan at the prospect. When they do that with me I tell them, “You protest too much. You are only groaning to cover up your real love for Clark, and to maintain some semblance of cool in the eyes of your classmates. It’s alright, I’ve been there too.”
They usually do not groan after that.