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Understanding Art - Hidden Lives of Masterpieces: DVD Review

Jul 10th, 2013

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An art documentary set that should thrill the interested and bore the masses...

RLJ / 259 Minutes / 2010-2012 / Unrated / Street Date: June 18, 2013

One certainly knows what to expect with this latest release from Acorn Media's Athena arm - Understanding Art: Hidden Lives of Masterpieces is a classroom-in-a-DVD-sleeve endeavor that aims to take some classics of the art world and break them down, to assess them not merely as esteemed, hallowed relics of an age gone by, but as aesthetic entities of their own regard. There certainly is a lot of material to sift through on this compilation - only the hyper-intrigued will make it through its first episode - but as a scholastic tool, Hidden Lives of Masterpieces is invaluable.

The issue, though, is that while the filmmaking here is legitimate, Understanding Art: Hidden Lives of Masterpieces' technical acuity is not. Home theater geeks have bemoaned the death of standard-def for a while now, and sub-par releases like this one feel like nails in its coffin. The irony of exhibiting some of the grandest aesthetic achievements ever concocted by human hands with average-at-best video quality will not be lost on most who investigate this release: if you watch, you will ask yourself why the show doesn't look better.

But guys like us will rant and rave about technical slip-ups whether studios like Acorn Media doing anything about it or not. All moaning and groaning aside, Understanding Art: Hidden Lives of Masterpieces – featuring analyses of works by folks like Raphael, Poussin, and Rembrandt - is informative and often truly illuminating. It's not exactly a thrill ride, but there's a reason these names are still part of our collective artistic conversation.

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