Ways of Seeing

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Zach Porterfield
Introduction to Media, Society, and the Arts

John Berger's Ways of Seeing Response

John Berger has shown how to take any image, whether it is a painting, an advertisement, or a picture, and dissect it into a branching, almost fractal, network of deeper meanings. He has done this by changing observational techniques of looking at the image; by focusing in on specific areas within the image to reveal scenes within the overall scene or by controlling the arrangement in which we view the image (e.g. left to right, right to left, etc.). By pairing an image with music, or the context of which it is being shown, a different meaning altogether is presented, as opposed to viewing the image in silence, or out of context. Each of these methods of viewing enhances and conceals differentiations in what is trying to be conveyed. The experience is almost circumstantial and thus, utterly subjective to a degree.

Paintings, and works of art in general, are first and foremost objects that can be bought and owned. The value of an oil painting is valued as such because it is depicting value. These works of art were intended to show two things: one, the skill of the painter, and two the wealth and worth of the subject and/or the owner/spectator. European oil paintings held the almost unprecedented power of objectifying materialistic tendencies in the wealthy by depicting their property and showing their wealth in their clothes, or their land, or their furniture. The oil painting was used as a catalogue of ones worth; an archive of identity, but as long as that identity was divine, cultured, powerful, wealthy, et cetera. Portraits were utilized as a tool by their proprietor to demonstrate to the world the respect that they deserved. One can view an oil painting and recognize its subject matter and find it beautiful in its intricacies and marvel at the mastery of the painter, or they can view the painting within the social context of the...
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