John Berger – Ways of Seeing (1972)

“John Berger died on Monday, a few weeks after turning 90. Our grief has been poured out widely, in proportion to his great generosity. Berger’s career was simply so much. It spanned the second half of the long twentieth century and at least six different jobs (art historian, novelist, playwright, critic, teacher, painter). He began teaching painting in 1948, and published his last book of essays, Confabulations, only last year. In the days since his death, Berger has been most widely eulogized for his 1972 BBC series Ways of Seeing, which was adapted into a popular book. If you were into art as a teenager, you probably read it then. I did: Holding that dog-eared copy in my hands today, the book still seems to shiver with revelatory power. For many Berger fans, Ways of Seeing represents the first time a book trusted them to see past the appearance of things. It’s a book about art history and the media, but it’s also a magic trick. Berger takes his readers beyond the visible, towards a closer understanding of the world as it really is—the one capitalism, patriarchy, and empire try to hide from you. By the same token, however, professors assign Ways of Seeing to college freshmen because it is easy. Berger synthesizes, paraphrases, and boils down large swaths of important cultural theory into a work that is both inspiring and intuitive to understand. Revisiting the book now, you may find it reduced. It is very short, for one thing, and it moves very quickly. In fewer than 200 pages, Berger whips the curtain back on contemporary advertising’s roots in European oil painting. He explains the difference between the painted nude—seductive, objectified—and the naked human being. He tells us that still-life painting did not depict objects qua objects, but as items to be owned. European conventions on perspective, he argues, offer the world up to the covetous viewer with a deference found in no other tradition. Berger points out that the globe hovering behind Holbein’s The Ambassadors refers to incipient empire and so to racist violence. The book concludes. There are no endnotes. In this small work, Berger gives a basic primer on the complicity of the European art tradition from 1500 to 1900 with the politics of the same period. Gender politics, the role of the visual in abetting capitalism, colonialism’s special investment in that role: He whistle-stops past them all. …”
New Republic
W – Ways of Seeing
How John Berger changed our way of seeing art (Video)
[PDF] Ways of Seeing, amazon
YouTube: John Berger on Ways of Seeing, being an artist, and Marxism
YouTube: Ways of Seeing, Episode 1 29:59, Episode 2 28:31, Episode 3 27:03, Episode 4 28:50

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