The Shock of the New

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The Shock of the New
Directed byDavid Lewis Richardson/Lorna Pegram
Produced byLorna Pegram
Narrated byRobert Hughes
Release date

The Shock of the New is an eight-part documentary television series about the development of modern art written and presented in 1980 by Robert Hughes for the BBC, in association with Time-Life Films. It was produced by Lorna Pegram, who also directed three of the episodes.[1]


The series took three years to create and Robert Hughes travelled about a quarter of a million miles during the filming to include particular places or people. The series also used archive footage of featured artists.[2]

The series was broadcast by the BBC in 1980 in the United Kingdom and by PBS in 1981 in the United States.[3][4] It addressed the development of modern art since the Impressionists and was accompanied by a book of the same name; its combination of insight, wit and accessibility are still widely praised. Hughes remembers being directed by Pegram with her saying, "It's a clever argument, Bob dear, but what are we supposed to be looking at?".[1]

In 2004 Hughes created a one-hour update to The Shock of the New titled The NEW Shock of the New.[5]

Series outline[edit]

The series consisted of eight episodes each one hour long (58 min approx).[6] It was re-broadcast on PBS in the United States. In the three cases, where PBS changed the titles, they are given in square brackets below. Quotations are spoken by Martin Jarvis.

  1. Mechanical Paradise – How the development of technology influenced art between 1880 and end of World War I. Cubism and Futurism
  2. The Powers That Be [Shapes of Dissent] – Examining the relationship between modern art and authority. Dada, Constructivism, Futurism, architecture of power
  3. The Landscape of Pleasure – Examining art's relationship with the pleasures of nature, and visions of paradise 1870s to 1950s. Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism
  4. Trouble in Utopia – Examining the aspirations and reality of modern architecture. International Style, Art Nouveau, Futurist architecture, urban planning
  5. The Threshold of Liberty – Examining the surrealists' attempts to make art without restrictions.
  6. The View from the Edge [Sublime and Anxious Eye] – A look at those who made visual art from the crags and vistas of their internal world. Expressionism
  7. Culture as Nature – Examining the art that referred to the man-made world which fed off culture itself. Pop art and celebrity
  8. The Future That Was [End of Modernity] – The commercialisation of modern art, the decline of modernism, and art without substance. Land art, performance art, and body art

2004 update[edit]


The book of the series was published in 1980 by the BBC under the title The Shock of the New: Art and the century of change.[7] It was republished in 1991 by Thames and Hudson.[8] The book was included by The Guardian in their list of the top 100 non-fiction books, and was still in print in 2012.[2]

Video releases[edit]

The televised edition of The Shock of the New has been posted on the internet[9][10] and is published as a set of DVDs.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Pegram [née Woods], Lorna Gladys Hurst (1926–1993), television producer and novelist". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/53134. Retrieved 3 October 2020. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ a b "The Shock of the New". Retrieved 3 October 2020.
  3. ^ Episode guide
  4. ^ The Shock of the New on PBS
  5. ^ Robert Hughes on updating The Shock of The New
  6. ^ "BBC Two - the Shock of the New - Episode guide".
  7. ^ Hughes, Robert (1980). The Shock of the New. British Broadcasting Corporation. p. 200. ISBN 0-563-17780-2.
  8. ^ Hughes, Robert (1981). The Shock of the New: Art and the Century of Change. ISBN 0-500-27582-3.
  9. ^ The Shock of the New on Youtube.
  10. ^ "The Shock of the New on Vimeo". Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  11. ^ The Shock of the New on DVD. BBC and Time Life Films. Ambrose Video

External links[edit]