This book has the potential to completely re-shift your understanding of art. It is about art philosophy, but much more than that, how we understand the nature of art, and how it relates to our cultures and societies. It is a book designed for the general reader, without a large art background, but also appreciable by the artist and the professional art critic.
People often look down upon the objectification of women in advertising, and how we regularly degrade women for the pleasure of a few, treating women as objects or bodies only. But then we look back on the nudes of the Renaissance or other periods and think, how beautifully made! This is truly art, after all, and not the same moral level as an underwear ad or porn. Berger destroys these myths. Yes, Rembrandt's nudes are much more artistically done than anything in advertising, but Berger shows a convincing link between the treatment of women in art of that time and art of this time. If one expands the definition of art in the modern period, the similarities are extraordinary. In Ways of Seeing Berger carefully traces how art has been used as a method of control, in general and towards women in particular. How those beautiful nudes we now see in museums were usually in wealthy men's private collections where only they could observe them- much as Playboy is today. How even the medium (oil, watercolor, film) changes the way information is forced upon us and control is asserted. Berger does this all not only through text but showing the actual paintings and pictures- indeed, over half the book is art of various sorts. It is illuminating to see an ad that obviously objectifies women, and then to see the exact same picture next to it, but of a famous oil painting that the ad was based on. I first read this work over a decade ago and it's ideas and images have never left me. Nor will they leave you.