John Berger, Ways of Seeing

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Finding the Meaning of an Artwork

According to John Berger in his essay “Ways of Seeing” the way that a painting is viewed by some may already be distorted prior to analyzing it because we are not viewing the original piece. The information that comes from the silence of a painting is only truly experienced when looking at the original work rather than a reproduction of it. The original work speaks to you in a way that a reproduction is not able to. Berger says this clearly when he states:

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 is. . . . What we make of that painted moment when it is before our eyes depends upon what we expect of art, and that in turn depends today upon how we have already experienced the meaning of paintings through reproductions. (116)

The paintings may first appear as silent pieces but one can change this. Becoming familiar with

a painting requires that one submerges himself/herself in it and ask it questions. Asking the right questions can reveal facts about the painting that one may not have known otherwise. Having a “conversation” with the painting can allow us to think of things that we would not have thought of otherwise. Taking Berger’s suggestions I decided to take two works of art and analyze them in order not to be mystified by them any longer. Engaging in conversations with each work of art allowed me to dig deeper into the actual meaning, or what could be the actual meaning, of each work.

The mystification that some experience when viewing art is brought about by others telling us that we should be mystified by these...
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