John Berger

Topics: Art critic, History of painting, Painting Pages: 6 (2147 words) Published: November 15, 2008
Ways of Seeing is a very thin book, with few words, yet it is an extremely influential book, and confronts several important aspects of art, unlike any other author. John Berger takes a general approach of Marxism and New Art History relating to social history in Ways of Seeing. He focuses less on the aesthetic properties of art, and more on the New Art History approach; on the social and political construction of artworks, mainly oil paintings concerning class, race, gender, and ethnicity. Berger also focuses on a Marxist methodology, in which he explains art works as the reflection of the values of the economically dominant class and as participants in political exertions. An example of this appears in chapter five, in which Berger depicts much art that illustrates tangible possessions, and land enjoyed by the wealthy. More specifically, a painting, of Mr. and Mrs. Andrews by Gainsborough, painted beside a cornfield, exemplifies the Marxist premise that art reflects the ideology of the wealthy (106) . Berger explains that the reason for their background does not illustrate their love for nature, but that they are proud landowners. Chapter six further demonstrates this with a pictographic essay, in several pictures of white

He contrasts the formal, unfelt happiness displayed in the portrait of a young Rembrandt and his first wife, and the traditional use of the oil painting for its traditional purpose, by showing their wealth and prestige, to the second older one. The first set of pictures completely changes the tone from provocative to very conservative art, with religious settings. Berger uses pictures in his book firstly in his illustrative essays, in which there are only images, and each image commonly compares or contrasts to the others. Berger also brings the essay back to chapter five. I believe that Ways of Seeing is an extremely valuable book, which can offer great insight into artwork, particularly oil painting. In these pictures, the people of color look adoringly at their white masters, and in each case, the aristocrats sit much higher up than their servants, almost resembling royalty. Berger explains this perfectly when he states, “The gap between what publicity actually offers and the future it promises, corresponds with the gap between what the spectator-buyer feels himself to be and what he would like to be” (148). Again, Berger uses comparison between pictures of women and of meat. Another very important role of images is that the essays without titles or explanations cause the readers to make up their own narrative and decide what the images mean to them. Berger uses comparison to organize much of his essay. A way in which Berger uses comparison in chapter five is between two self-portraits of Rembrandt. The fourth chapter is another pictorial essay. This example of contrasting is so important because it completely works against everything that the oil painting advocates. In other examples, he uses pictures to help demonstrate his point combined with words. Berger helped me to discover the differences between photographs and oil paintings of which I was not aware, and gain greater respect for oil paintings, and the calmness and serenity that they produce, much unlike a snapshot. Berger isn't making artistic observations as much as social commentary. He gives not-so-subtle hints that he's basically a communist and talks about how European Art serves the purposes of the elite (from feudalism to capitalism) to oppress "the majority." There is even an entire chapter talking about art oppressing women. That said, I see three ways people would refer to this book: #1 - People who hold a similar (or the same) position, these would point to this book as an authoritative statement to prove their position #2 - People who hold the opposite position, these people would just pass it off and meaningless propaganda And finally, the way I came at it:

#3 - As a academic work
And it is the failure to survive as an...
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