John Berger, Ways of Seeing
Edition used: Penguin
In this lecture Jason Lieblang gives a brief introduction to some of the Marxist terms used in the text (such as ideology, mystification, naturalization), then discusses some of the arguments from Chapters 1, 5 and 7 of Berger’s Ways of Seeing–including reproduction and the “aura” of originals, the focus of European oil painting on possessions and property, and the relationship between European oil painting and advertisements. He did not discuss Chapter 3, on gender and images, as we were going to talk about that issue more the following week.
Please see this Mediasite link for the video with the sides attached.
- Berger states on page 63 that “(t)oday the attitudes and values which informed that tradition (of the European nude oil painting) are expressed through … advertising, journalism (and) television.” How do Berger’s arguments stand up in our now digitized visual world? Are his criticisms still relevant? Discuss Berger’s critique of visual publicity in light of developments in the means of the (re)production and dissemination of visual images that have occurred over the more than forty years since the publication of Ways of Seeing.
- Discuss one of the exceptional artists (Blake and Rembrandt are two examples) that Berger highlights. Explain what it is about their painting that challenges the artistic status quo, whether that be the objectification of women or the obsession with representing property. You may wish to consider one or more images in Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience.
- Using Berger’s ideas as a basis for your argument, discuss how the medium used in the representation of an object—oil painting, watercolour, photography—affect the way that we see and understand that object.
- In the “Note to the reader,” Berger calls the three sections with only images “essays.” Choose one of these pictorial essays (the ones without words) and give an interpretation of what argument it could be making, or what questions it could be raising.
- In the “Note to the reader,” Berger says that “The form of the book is as much to do with our purpose as the arguments contained within it.” Write an essay that explains how the form of the book could be said to relate to one or more of the arguments in it.
- In Ways of Seeing, Berger analyzes several images, but does not always say everything that could be said about them. Choose several images in the text (no more than three) and do a deeper analysis than is provided in the book, connecting it to Berger’s arguments (either showing that your analysis supports what he is saying, or goes against it).
- Find a current visual advertisement and do a “Bergerian” analysis of it, using arguments from Ways of Seeing.
- One of the main arguments of Ways of Seeing is that current conceptions of art engage in a “cultural mystification of the past” (11). What, if anything, prevents us from drawing the same conclusion about this text?