John Berger Essay- Ways of Seeing

Topics: Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Art critic Pages: 5 (1846 words) Published: November 13, 2008
While in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, I traveled through the different galleries and their various cultures; discovering all sorts of arts from Contemporary art, to American art, Japanese art, and even the Egyptian art where I could appreciate the complexity of mummies. Throughout all these diverse cultures of art, I was questioning myself and started to wonder how I could understand art beyond others’ opinion about them. Moreover, I realized that it was a question John Berger, critic of art and author of the Ways of Seeing, raised in his essay, and it is a question that will always be raised while demanding how to understand a certain art. Walking through a room where various French artists had their paintings exposed, I fell in front of the artwork (see above) painted by Paul Gauguin. I did not choose a French artist to make me remember the French culture that I am missing here in Boston, nor to pretend that the French are advanced in art, but a way to analyze and understand, with the experience of a famous art critic, an artwork from an artist who astonished me in my previous art classes. D'où venons-nous, Qui sommes-nous, Où allons-nous?

By Paul Gauguin
I chose a painting that had a warm expression, and complex story emanating from it. As the title of my essay indicates, the title of the painting translated in English is “Where are we from? Who are we? Where are we going?” So many questions in the title and the painting, but there were as much coming through my mind while studying this image. This artwork is very ambiguous because I do not know how to start looking at it. I can observe people appearing half naked in the foreground, but we cannot really tell why they appear there. The statue in the back makes the questioning more obscure. It seems like an Oracle that gives people their destiny, and that is maybe why they all look so sad. Truly, I felt that this image was a representation of my origin country, West Indies, by the color Gauguin used. He used the blue to symbolize the ocean surrounding the island, and the mixed race of the habitants by the warm and beige color or the characters. I felt as if I was in the center of the painting, more precisely in the position of the child being observed in the right corner, and waiting to be reassured. I also felt like the person in the middle of the painting, standing up and waiting for answers while traveling through this painting. Gauguin’s artworks are extremely complicated to decipher, so are they to analyze. Gauguin is an artist I studied back in France in my art classes. Consequently, I had seen many of his works, and even the painting I chose; However, I had never asked myself how knowing about his life could help me study his paintings. I was taught in my art classes how to analyze art in a more technical way than in an analytical way like Berger supported. Indeed, when we were looking at the entire structure of the painting with my art class method, we were focusing on the brush strokes, the color, the tone, lines and forms, and the composition of the painting. If I had to describe the work of art I chose based on technical features, I would examine the painting saying that the brush strokes could express many emotions at the same time, and describe the painter style and art movement. Gauguin was also part of the post-impressionist painters with artists such as Paul Cezanne or Van Gogh. Post impressionist art was more focused on color, lines, outlines and perspective. Concerning Gauguin, the complexity of shapes is very important in his paintings due to their abstract significations. In fact, the lines were not straight; they were round and suggesting bodies that we did not see in art before. Moreover, the color had its importance. Post impressionist artists like Gauguin used color and color combination in order to create ‘vulgar’, ‘calm’ or ‘bold’ impressions (Robert Hughes). The analysis of the painting I just did was very technical and structural, but in...

Cited: Book references:
• Berger, John. “Ways of Seeing.” Ways of Reading. An Anthology for Writers. 8th
Edition. Ed. David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008.
• Hughes, Robert. “Paul Gauguin” The Shock of the New. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980.
Gauguin, Paul. D’ou venons nous? Qui sommes nous? Ou allons nous? 1898.
Museum of Fine Art, Boston, MA, United States.
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