By Alan Dean Foster
The program I’m going to talk about is called “Art Beats,” and even if you’re an art lover, you probably haven’t seen it. Or heard of it. Not your fault. I only came across it because we recently purchased a 4K-capable TV. I hadn’t bought a new TV in 10 years and wanted one because as my vision gets worse, the TVs thankfully get larger. But I didn’t know much about 4K. Roughly speaking, 4K provides four times the definition of HD (high-definition) TV. For a great deal of television, that doesn’t make any difference. Talk shows don’t benefit from being shot in 4K. Neither do situational comedies or “Bob Bakes Burgers.”
It makes a huge difference for a show like “Art Beats.”
Not only are resolution, color, etc. astounding in 4K, but for the first time I found myself looking at images on TV of artworks I had seen in person and finding the reproduction true to life. Utilizing 4K cameras, the production team for “Art Beats” was able to take its time lingering lovingly over not just individual art works but small sections of those works, much as an art book would employ closeup shots of different parts of a painting or sculpture to emphasize specific aspects of an artist’s work. This wasn’t as important when the subject was as massive as Michelangelo’s “David,” but when used to scan over Botticelli’s “Primavera” it was a revelation.
All one had to do to recognize the importance was point the 4K camera at the flowers.
Unless a viewer is aware of the significance of the flowers in “Primavera,” they tend to be overlooked. Overwhelmed, actually, by the sybaritic flow of the overall composition and the stunning beauty of its people. “Primavera” is a huge painting. After showing us faces and figures, a program like “Art Beats” can drop down to the field of blooms and pick them out one at a time, presenting them to the viewer in detail never before possible with a video or film camera. It’s said that there are some 500 individual flowering plants depicted in “Primavera” representing up to 200 different species, some of which are now extinct, or possibly a sophisticated blossoming (if you will) of Botticelli’s imagination.
This optical fidelity is crucial because the Art Beat shows are intended not for television viewing but to be seen in theaters. If your resolution isn’t exceptional, blowing tiny flowers up to theater screen size would be a waste of time. You’d see nothing but colorful blurs. Botticelli was specific, not psychedelic, and he was no impressionist.
Every painting, every work of art in the “Art Beats” series benefits to a greater or lesser degree from being carefully documented in 4K. The lighting, camera work, even the music is designed to enhance the fine detail that the new cameras can bring out. Here in the U.S., we benefit unduly from these efforts.
Why? Because few people in this country are going to pay to go to a movie theater to see a 90-minute film about Florence and the Uffizi museum, or Leonardo da Vinci, or Raphael. So, for the producers, the realistic U.S. market for such films becomes 4K TV.
You can’t see programs shot in 4K unless you have a 4K set plus a program supplier who broadcasts in 4K. There isn’t much original programming available in the format (I’m discounting pay channels that show movies in 4K). This kind of content will, and should, increase. In its absence, distributors looking for content are forced to look to material originally shot for theatrical release. Fortunately for all of us, that includes wonderful, otherwise inaccessible material such as “Art Beats.”
Pannonia, the company that produces “Art Beats,” is Hungarian. They also release films of opera, ballet, and classical music concerts, though their website doesn’t specify if these are also shot in 4K. If so, one can only hope to see them released here on 4K-capable TV. Meanwhile, I’ll just have to wait for their other productions to make their way to channel 104 on DirecTV. Hopefully their production “Hitler vs. Picasso” (I am not making that up) will make its appearance soon.
Since technology, especially consumer technology, never stands still, the even higher resolution 8K is in the works. I don’t know how “Jeopardy” will play in 8K, but I know that Georgia O’Keefe would look just fine. While waiting for that, Pannonia, can we have a program devoted to 19th-century American landscape greats like Bierstadt and Church? They did flowers, too.
Alan Dean Foster is author of more than 120 books, visitor to more than 100 countries, and still frustrated by the human species. Follow him at AlanDeanFoster.Com.