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Modern Classics Ways of Seeing Mass Market Paperback – Oct 28 2008

3.8 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classic (Oct. 28 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014103579X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141035796
  • Product Dimensions: 11.1 x 1.3 x 18 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 118 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #16,070 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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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Galaxies, stars, planets and now spaceships rush about the universe, and we have a sense of time passing because the positions of objects change. Read the first page
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Format: Paperback
Barely showing its age after thirty years, John Berger's WAYS OF SEEING remains one of the best popular presentations of academic and scholarly thought in recent decades. There are actually very few original ideas in Berger's book. Just about the entire content can be found in a variety of thinkers either inspiring, belonging to, or influenced by the Frankfort school, for instance, Meyer Schapiro, Adorno, and especially Walter Benjamin. None of these thinkers are household names in the English speaking world, even though Schapiro may well be the greatest art critic America has produced, and despite Benjamin's possibly being the greatest cultural critic of the 20th century. One reason their ideas have not become more widely known is the fact that all of these thinkers were deeply influenced by Marxism, though none of them were Communists. As a result, while many of the ideas that Berger presents in his work are well known in literary and scholarly circles, they remain unknown to most casual visitors to art museums.
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.
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Format: Paperback
I must agree that this is an excellent book. It is not only a wonderful series of essays on art, but a landmark study of the ideological function of visual discourse. Berger "shows" how the framing of visual images shapes the viewer's perception of those images and of what they attempt to represent. Chapters two and three, on "ways of seeing women", are especially powerful illustrations of how particular attitudes are reflected in visual representations and of how those attitudes are reaffirmed for the viewer. Berger's argument is that discourse -- visual in this case -- is never purely objective, but is always reflective of a particular way of seeing the world. This is not to say that we should attempt to overcome our particular ways of seeing -- which cannot be done. It is instead a call to be aware of the ways of seeing to which we have become accustomed, and which we reproduce in our own lives.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback
WAYS OF SEEING is a collection of seven essays. Three are pictorial; four are textual. All are about art, how art is seen, how it is valued, how it is used, and what we can learn from looking at art.
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.
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