Ways of Seeing

Ways of Seeing

John Berger’s Classic Text on ArtJohn Berger's Ways of Seeing is one of the most stimulating and the most influential books on art in any language. First published in 1972, it was based on the BBC television series about which the (London) Sunday Times critic commented: "This is an eye-opener in more ways than one: by concentrating on how we look at paintings . . . he will...

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Title:Ways of Seeing
Author:John Berger
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Edition Language:English

Ways of Seeing Reviews

  • Trevor

    This book is based on a television series which can be viewed on YouTube here:

    This is a really remarkable series and a remarkable, although annoying, book. The book is annoying because it should have been a coffee table book with large colour photographs and large font – instead it is a Penguin paperback with a font tending towards the unreadable and grey scale reproductions of the paintings that make them almost impossible to view. This is agonising, as

    This book is based on a television series which can be viewed on YouTube here:

    This is a really remarkable series and a remarkable, although annoying, book. The book is annoying because it should have been a coffee table book with large colour photographs and large font – instead it is a Penguin paperback with a font tending towards the unreadable and grey scale reproductions of the paintings that make them almost impossible to view. This is agonising, as really all you will want to do is studying and think about these images for hours.

    There is something we sort of know, even if I suspect we are completely wrong in our intuition. We have been, as humans, looking at pictures for a lot longer than we have been reading books. For the vast majority of us, literacy is a disturbingly recent invention – perhaps a hundred , maybe a hundred and fifty years for people in the first world. Churches told their Biblical stories as much in images as in words. For a long time even here the words were spoken in a language that was not understood by those listening. Learning how to read images, something so many of us assume isn’t something we need to learn, but rather is somehow immediate, takes an entire culture and also takes perhaps as long as to learn how to read. To understand how images work on us – how we are manipulated by them – that takes at least as long as it takes to learn the same things about how words work on and manipulate us.

    So, on one level this book is an exploration of the history of oil painting and what such paintings ‘mean’ – mean to us now in comparison to what they meant to earlier generations of people in Western societies. Because the Western tradition of painting is quite a separate thing from any other ‘world art’ traditions.

    He starts by saying that paintings are both still and silent. This is an interesting thing to say, because how we generally experience paintings today – or at least, learn about them – is through shows like Sister Wendy’s World Tour of Art or Simon Schama’s Power of Art. Don’t for a second get me wrong here – I loved both. But the art works displayed are anything but still or silent. There is a voice track and there is a panning and a zooming-in that turns these still and silent works into something approaching a cartoon. I had never considered the implications of this before. The painting stops being what it is, in fact, cannot remain what it is on the screen, it stops being an object that the artist created so as to speak for itself, and now requires someone to mediate between it and us, to either speak over it (explain it) or to orchestrate it (quite literally, with music) so that we are taught the proper way to read this painting.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about how we ‘read’ paintings and images, particularly after reading a book called Reading Images: the grammar of visual design. It is interesting that in that book it is clear that linguistic grammar has been used as a way to structure our response to the grammar of images – quite effectively, I think – but this is almost counter-intuitive. If we have had a more immediate relationship with images than with written text, why is it that we need to use the organising principles associated with written texts so as to seek to understand images? Why doesn’t that work the other way around? I know in part this is because language has been formally codified, but this, again, raises the question of why images are so resistant to such codification. Why would it be daft to explain what a verb is by reference to Mona Lisa’s eyebrows?

    The relationship between being naked (being without clothes) and being nude is presented here in what I take to be feminist art criticism. A nude is not merely someone without clothes – it is almost invariably a female and she is also on display, an object. In many ways she is not really the protagonist of the painting, even when she is the only person in the painting – the other person that is always present is the anonymous male viewer towards whom she is on display. He shows image after image of nude women, and even while being embraced, they are turned to the viewer, turned to their true lover, their fantasy lover, for not only are they the screen on which we project our lust, but also the reason for our weaknesses – they are, in the end, to be lusted over and to blame. No wonder they are invariably passive and languid. After corrupting the whole of male humanity, how could they not look exhausted?

    And that is actually the point – it is only today that a painting can be seen by quite so many people. They were never intended to be seen other than by the very few. Today paintings are pretty much what Plato said of them, representations of representations – but as such they are a demonstration of just how wealthy the owner really was. Paintings put on display the wealth of their owners – and that was a large part of what had been their purpose. Here’s me, and here’s the missus, and we are standing in front of our house, this is our bedroom, these are the oranges we have shipped in from Spain, this is our cow and, despite the late summer sun setting, these are our furs.

    The last program in the series looks at advertising and how it uses and distorts the language of paintings, to which it is the last dying breathe of a tradition spanning back 500 years. In oil painting we are looking at the current wealth of the owners – there is a now-ness about these paintings – this is what I look like now, this is what I own now – the fact that it is always ‘then’ in images is something everyone has become more aware of now we have cameras and something Barthes explains beautifully in his Camera Lucida. Time stops in the image, and as such all images are images of death. Life immediately marches away from them, leaving them as pure memory. So, paintings are always about the present and, as such, thus also immediately about the past – the present being just the past in waiting.

    But marketing images are always about the future, never about the present. Selling something is about creating a desire and that desire is not here and now, it is sometime soon. In many ways advertising doesn’t sell products – it sells envy and desire. As he points out, the rich people in oil paintings are not glamorous – glamour is beside the point. To be glamorous the viewer needs to want to emulate the people they see in the images – but the people who own paintings see themselves – so, there is no need for glamour. To sell product you need to sell a fantasy and that fantasy needs to be just out of reach, but obtainable though an exchange not actually part of the image, an exchange of money for a good, but that exchange is the point of the image. That capitalism needs such constant exchanges and that advertising creates the desires that fuel these exchanges is the open secret of our society. That said, I’d never considered the relationship with time that this creates before – how, to be economically valid units, we need to be constantly living in a fantasy future, while also being prepared to put up with just about any boredom in our all too prosaic present. No wonder advertisement is uninterested in now, it needs to be – it needs to negate now for what is to come.

    The book also draws a distinction between how we advertise to the working class (the promised transformation is based on Cinderella) and the middle class (the promised transformation is based on The Enchanted Palace) – for the working class buying this one product will be enough to transform you into the princess, for the middleclass investing in this bank will bring you all of the good things in life, which are, of necessity, an ensemble.

    There is so much to think about in this tiny book and this short series of films. I watch shows like this and I think, imagine what television could have been – but, of course, it could never have been anything of the kind. This is very much the exception that proves the rule. So, to see what television could never have been allowed to be, watch this and then go back to reading books.

  • Pierce

    First of all, this entire book is set in bold. I don't know what crazy crazyman let that through the gate at Penguin but I just felt I had to point it out right away. It's still worth reading.

    4 essays and 3 pictorial essays. Really interesting stuff cutting away some of the bullshit associated with our appreciation of art. It seems like museums are doing a lot of things wrong as well as right.

    Chapter on oil-painting was particularly interesting but it was the last one about advertising (or "publ

    First of all, this entire book is set in bold. I don't know what crazy crazyman let that through the gate at Penguin but I just felt I had to point it out right away. It's still worth reading.

    4 essays and 3 pictorial essays. Really interesting stuff cutting away some of the bullshit associated with our appreciation of art. It seems like museums are doing a lot of things wrong as well as right.

    Chapter on oil-painting was particularly interesting but it was the last one about advertising (or "publicity" as it's exclusively referred to in this book) that has me thinking. Advertising not only needs you to want this shirt, this car, the entire industry must endeavor to narrow the scope of your desires to make you amenable to the culture. The mindset must always be a future, better you achieved through important purchases. The essay is horrifying enough until you realise that it's thirty years old, and this is now only one facet of a business that's grown much more insidious. The ads shown are almost quaint in their straight sell.

  • Austin Kleon

    My map of the book:

  • Stephen

    2007 wrote: This book, based on a television series, explores how the art world of now has come to be by exploring what art was to humans in the past. The theories presented are very interesting and are posed with pictorial references that do very well to prove points. One interesting chapter deals exclusively with the 'Nude' in art overtime. Overtime it has been reviled, reveared, copied, censored, hidden, hoarded and abstracted. Another great chapter deals in the context in which people see ar

    2007 wrote: This book, based on a television series, explores how the art world of now has come to be by exploring what art was to humans in the past. The theories presented are very interesting and are posed with pictorial references that do very well to prove points. One interesting chapter deals exclusively with the 'Nude' in art overtime. Overtime it has been reviled, reveared, copied, censored, hidden, hoarded and abstracted. Another great chapter deals in the context in which people see art, in contrast to how they might have been meant to see it by the artist. Many pieces are painted as singular wall decorations, but now are hanging in museums next to a hundred other of these decorations. Overtime people now view art online or in sections of video, where a director controls the viewers eyes as what to see through camera tricks and narration. The chapter contemplates and guesses how this might change to experience of art over time. Changing from entertainment, to a more scholarly subject. A very interesting read.

  • Riku Sayuj

    If you are really impatient, you may go and see

    for this book. Otherwise you may wait a few weeks for mine - I don't think it would be fair to review the book without seeing the documentary.

  • Ahmad Sharabiani

    Way of Seeing, John Berger

    عنوان: شیوه های نگریستن؛ شیوه های دیدن؛ شیوه های نگاه؛ نویسنده: جان برگر (جان برجر)؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش: از ششم فوریه تا دوم مارس سال 2013 میلادی

    عنوان: شیوه های نگریستن؛ نویسنده: جان برگر (جان برجر)؛ مترجم: غلامحسین فتح الله نوری؛ تهران، ویژه نگار، 1388؛ در 77 ص، مصور، شابک: 9789649461748؛ موضوع: ادراک بصری، فن، هنر، از نویسندگان قرن 20 م

    عنوان: شیوه های نگاه؛ نویسنده: جان برگر (جان برجر)؛ مترجم: محمد هوشمند ویژه؛ تهران، بهجت، 1390؛ در 160 ص، مصور، رنگی؛ شابک: 978964276

    Way of Seeing, John Berger

    عنوان: شیوه های نگریستن؛ شیوه های دیدن؛ شیوه های نگاه؛ نویسنده: جان برگر (جان برجر)؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش: از ششم فوریه تا دوم مارس سال 2013 میلادی

    عنوان: شیوه های نگریستن؛ نویسنده: جان برگر (جان برجر)؛ مترجم: غلامحسین فتح الله نوری؛ تهران، ویژه نگار، 1388؛ در 77 ص، مصور، شابک: 9789649461748؛ موضوع: ادراک بصری، فن، هنر، از نویسندگان قرن 20 م

    عنوان: شیوه های نگاه؛ نویسنده: جان برگر (جان برجر)؛ مترجم: محمد هوشمند ویژه؛ تهران، بهجت، 1390؛ در 160 ص، مصور، رنگی؛ شابک: 9789642763528؛

    عنوان: شیوه های دیدن؛ نویسنده: جان برگر (جان برجر)؛ مترجم: زیبا مغربی؛ تهران، شورآفرین، 1393؛ در 122 ص، مصور، رنگی؛ شابک: 9786006955278؛

    جان برگر در «راه‌های دیدن» می‌گوید: «مردان به زنان می‌نگرند و زنان به خود نگاه می‌کنند که مورد تماشا قرار گرفته‌ اند. این روزها، دیگر برای دوربین‌ها آسان نیست که زنان را فقط به صورت ابزاری جنسی به نمایش بگذارند زیرا زنان کارگردان و بازیگر، از نقش‌های خود برای عرضه‌ ی هوش و قدرت آرمانی‌شان بهره می‌گیرند. زنان آمریکایی تلاش فراوانی کرده‌ اند تا دنیایی از آن خود بسازند، دنیایی که در آن اصل نگاه مردانه نمی‌تواند از وجود آنها، هویت جنسی‌شان را به نمایش بگذارد، بلکه مجبور خواهد بود آنها را زنانی با استعداد و باهوش به تصویر بکشد» ا. شربیانی

  • Narjes Dorzade

    .

    اگر کتاب رو خوندید و یا حتی نخوندید . حتما مستند " راه های نگریستن " رو که خود جان برجر ساخته ببنید . مستند بی نظیری که حتی جامع تر از کتابه .

    .

    ممنون آقای جان برجر

    بیشتر برای مستند ❤

  • Justin Evans

    I am not the audience for this book, mainly because I've already read and more or less digested the handful of essays and ideas on which it is based. The seven chapters break down fairly simply.

    1: Benjamin's 'Work of Art'--the ability to reproduce images alters the way we encounter works of art. This seems reasonable. Nobody gets to see a Giotto without having seen a reproduction first, except someone who has no interest in the Giotto in the first place. But Berger et al* go a step further: we

    I am not the audience for this book, mainly because I've already read and more or less digested the handful of essays and ideas on which it is based. The seven chapters break down fairly simply.

    1: Benjamin's 'Work of Art'--the ability to reproduce images alters the way we encounter works of art. This seems reasonable. Nobody gets to see a Giotto without having seen a reproduction first, except someone who has no interest in the Giotto in the first place. But Berger et al* go a step further: we need to use the fact that we encounter works of art differently to undermine the ruling class's privilege and the "specialized experts who are the clerks of the nostalgia of a ruling class in decline." That's on page 32. Part of me, a large part, laments the fact that you'd never get that published today, not even on a website. Another part of me laments the stupidity of intellectuals who put their faith in the inherent goodness of The People. The People does not have a good track record when it comes to art appreciation. That's not to say that people can't learn to appreciate art, only that We are no better and no worse than the ruling class was. We need to learn, we need to be taught, you can't do that if you assume that We are inherently able to do the right thing.

    2 & 3: Women are depicted differently from men, and, frankly, not in ways that are healthy for anyone, but particularly not for women. I agree. Which makes it breathtaking to see the authors get so many things wrong, either intentionally (cutting short the bible verse in which God punishes Eve *and Adam*); stupidly (non-Western art forms show women as active participants in sex, so that are isn't morally dubious); or in ways that are, ahem, temporally bound ("Hair is associated with sexual power, with passion." Seventies!).

    5: Oil paintings are bourgeois and generally not morally okay. Holbein's 'Ambassadors' is read as an example of this; the incredible distorted skull in the painting is the exception which proves the rule of oil paintings rather than, you know, showing that oil paintings can be self-critical, as are most good artworks of any kind. In general, the lesson of this book is that all art is bad for you, except the pieces that the authors of this book like. They like pieces by artists who can plausibly be turned into radicals, because only radicals can be interesting (Franz Hals; William Blake). They don't discuss the 20th century at all (I know they know that twentieth century art exists; perhaps, as good Benjaminian Marxists, they don't like abstraction or difficulty). They're also very uncomfortable with religious art, and want to group, e.g., Ambrosius Benson's Mary Magdalene with the absurd and/or pornographic Magdalene of later times, rather than admitting the rather obvious differences (Benson's is rich, but not, how can I put this... naked and disheveled.) Since the authors have a hard time saying what they actually like (vs. what they suspect is oppressive), you get idiocies like this: Rembrandt's famous late portrait shows a man for whom "all has gone except a sense of the question of existence, of existence as a question." A little thought would show that this is the sort of conservative pablum Great Artists have been serving up for generations.

    6 & 7: Advertizing uses art to make you think you want things you don't want and that you can get them, so you don't need to think about what you really want, e.g., more time away from the office. This is true.

    In sum: I was sucked in by the idea that this was a book about understanding art. It is not. It is critical theory for high-school readers. Good for what it is, but extremely narrow in scope, and quite harmful for anyone who swallows it whole rather than taking a few minutes to worry away at its assumptions. Harmful because those who accept it will say silly things, and because those who read it and reject it out of hand (due to the rhetoric, bad arguments, or conceptual confusion) won't be challenged to, you know, care about other people.

    * Humorous aspect of this book: it makes a big deal about how it was written by a group of people, because, you know, individuals are bad, and groups are good. You'll note that the book is sold as a book by John Berger. You can draw the conclusion.

  • Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this,

    "Seeing Comes Before Words: "Ways of Seeing" by John Berger “But because it is nevertheless ‘a work of art”’ – and art is thought to be greater than commerce – its market price is said to be a reflection of its spiritual value of an object, as distinct from a message or an example, can only be explained in terms of magic or religion.”

     

    In “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger

     

    “Original paintings are silent and still in a sense that informatio

    If you're into stuff like this,

    "Seeing Comes Before Words: "Ways of Seeing" by John Berger “But because it is nevertheless ‘a work of art”’ – and art is thought to be greater than commerce – its market price is said to be a reflection of its spiritual value of an object, as distinct from a message or an example, can only be explained in terms of magic or religion.”

     

    In “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger

     

    “Original paintings are silent and still in a sense that information never is. Even a reproduction hung on a wall is not comparable in this respect for in the original the silence and stillness permeate the actual material, the paint, in which one follows the traces of the painter’s immediate gestures. This has the effect of closing the distance in time between the painting of the picture and one’s own act of looking at it. In this special sense all paintings are contemporary.”

     

    In “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger

     

    I find it strange when someone tells me they’re attached to a certain painter and that painter in question is a genius; the definition of 'genius' is fairly broad, so one person's definition might not be another's. I haven't fully formed my argument, haven't pin pointed what it is that niggles at me. I think essentially the problem is that I attach 'genius' in other areas of human endeavour such as science or music or literature, to advancement. To pushing forward into new frontiers; to problem solving, to presenting the world in a different way. I suppose Cubism might meet those criteria, but a lot of Picasso's work seems purely derivative of existing art work and artists (e.g. Duchamp, Cezanne, Matisse, and especially African art and children's art) and he worked backwards into flatness, primitivism and naivety. He was certainly innovative and good at seeing and pulling together different visual stimuli into new combinations.

     

    If you're into Art and Painting in particular, you can the rest of the review elsewhere.

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