Modern Classics Ways of Seeing Mass Market Paperback – Oct 28 2008
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About the Author
John Berger was born in London in 1926. His acclaimed works of both fiction and non-fiction include the seminal Ways of Seeing and the novel G., which won the Booker Prize in 1972. In 1962 he left Britain permanently, and he now lives in a small village in the French Alps.
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Top Customer Reviews
Berger is intent to challenge ways of looking at art and other images that ignore the status of works of art as commodities. We not only live in a capitalistic society, but one in which virtually all its inhabitants are consumers. Consumers purchase commodities. Berger wants to raise the consciousness of viewers of these paintings that they are not merely "masterpieces," but commodities. Or, in the case of oil painting, visual representations of commodities.
These central assumptions are brought out in a series of essays. The first is a straightforward presentation of the main ideas in Walter Benjamin's seminal essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," a fact that Berger acknowledges at the end of the essay.Read more ›
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.
Of the textual essays, the first is about the mystification of art and history by its associations with assumptions and values that are not necessarily inherent in the work itself, but in its rarity, uniqueness, and commercial demand. He discusses art as being seen as an almost religious icon, and how the reproduction of images has contributed to the mystification of the original image.
The second textual essay is a study of women and how they are seen, who sees them, and how they see themselves being seen by others. It is Berger's critique of the Nude as an art form, and he argues that they place women as objects to be seen and desired and overpowered by men, the subject.
The third essay is about the tradition of oil paintings in Europe between 1500 and 1900. Berger explains the connections between the content of these paintings and the ownership of them as a symbol of affluence, as products of capitalism and the maintenance of the status quo.
The fourth essay has to do with publicity, or advertisement, and the reference that such images make to oil paintings, sexual attractiveness, and dissatisfaction with the current state of life (the promise of a better future, given that you buy something).
I'm not an art historian, and I don't know much about theories of art. But WAYS OF SEEING is a book that pierces into the comfortable notions of art as belonging to the elite and cultured, and reveals its role as used to maintain power structures. Who commissioned the work, who is meant to look at it, what is it putting on display, what are its political motives? These are questions that should be asked of any work of art, and Berger aims to ask these questions. By doing so, he also enlightens the reader.
Most recent customer reviews
I read this book when I was studying my undergraduate degree in art, and frequently referred back to it after. Now, I use it as a teaching tool in my class. Read morePublished 24 months ago by P. A. Glatta
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... Read morePublished on Feb. 2 2004 by CJ in College Station
This book had some insights, but overall, I found myself quite disappointed by it. Dedicated to attacking the viewpoint of the privileged élite creators of high-art... Read morePublished on Oct. 8 2003 by Julian Elson
If you want your eyes and mind opened to beauty and meaning, try "The Nude" by Kenneth Clark. If you want a tedious specimen of what Harold Bloom calls "the school of resentment,"... Read morePublished on Nov. 26 2002 by David W. Stoesz
Berger et al have produced an interesting work. It isn't something you would need to just have around the house for fun though. Read morePublished on June 30 2002 by I. Rodden
What do we see when we look? What makes us look in the first place? This book from the 1970s is a classic about what makes art and what attracts the eye. Read morePublished on Jan. 16 2002 by Bruce Appelbaum
thirty years on, 'Ways of Seeing' continues to be a major primary textbook, not just for those studying or interested in fine art, but in any of the humanities from literature to... Read morePublished on Oct. 22 2001 by darragh o'donoghue
This little book is about the dialetics of seeing. In a highly distilled and sweeping fashion, this book touches on the many issues that one should know about when it comes to... Read morePublished on Sept. 30 2001 by Ron