Culture / Interview

Andrew Graham-Dixon Discusses His BBC Series ‘Art of Scandinavia’

Journalist and broadcaster ANDREW GRAHAM DIXON has wrapped over a hundred one hour films on the History of Art, including the BBC’s Art of Scandinavia in 2016…

Xander Brett

In 1994, art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon embarked on a series that followed on from Kenneth Clarke’s Civilisation. He proposed a series of national stories, started in Spain, and went on to do programmes on France, Germany, Russia, America and China. In 2016, he profiled Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Graham-Dixon says he already had a certain interest in Scandinavia. “They’re interesting places to film in,” he tells me over the phone, “because their weather is so extreme. Like Russia, they’ve been on the edge of things, but they’ve had an impact that outweighs their population. Norway has always been a bit apart, because for much of its history it was very backward. The idea of having artists is a social luxury, so when Norway started to have artists there was a sense of mission.”

“Cultures are like viruses,” he says, “They mutate. I find the effect of nationhood on art fascinating. In the case of Germany, the acquisition of nationhood was traumatic: firstly, for them, then for everyone else.”

Graham-Dixon’s documentaries stand out, as they take in architecture and design, rather than just painting. He says Scandinavian architecture begins with the Viking stave churches. “The carpentry techniques were transferred to making ships,” he explains. “They actually flat pack – with hints of IKEA perhaps – old buildings to a park outside Oslo. I think these techniques are apparent in modern American architecture now too, following waves of Scandinavian immigration to North America in the 1920s and 30s.”

“Scandinavia was already a bit more open,” says Graham Dixon. “Sweden built a nation-state through housing and, in Norway, the welfare state was built on the weather. When there’s a welfare issue in the Norwegian climate it’s not a problem, it’s an emergency. The climate theory of nationhood is utterly discredited in modern terms, but I think it still has something to commend it. You can see it in Norway’s oil management. They saved up so well they now have something like 300,000 NOK (£25,000) of income per year for every person in the country.”

ANDREW GRAHAM-DIXON is a journalist and broadcaster.

This article is a Fika Online exclusive.

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