Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"Ways of Seeing" by John Berger

‘Ways of Seeing’ was a BBC program which was translated into a book of the same title, and recommended to me by my artist daughter, so I read it only to impress her with my artistic knowledge.

I expected a huge reference, but was gladly surprised to find that it is a tiny book. Moreover, and to my great delight, out of its seven chapters, four are written and illustrated, and the other three, are simply images of "famous" oil paintings and photos.

The book explores the way we see, and the way in which seeing has been manipulated through art and the media. That is the way photographs, television, and copies have affected the message of art.

Chapter one: I did not get most of it, but I think it is about how painters have viewed their subjects and the reasons behind the paintings.

Chapter two: I loved it. It had nothing but images so I skimmed quickly through it, although I am sure John Berger, had a good reason to have those images there, but I am afraid I must be artistically challenged (but please don't tell Noona).

Chapter thee: My favorite chapter, was about women and how they were painted as objects to be looked at by men. Berger says: "The man's presence is dependent upon the promise of power he embodies. The promised power may be moral, physical, temperamental, economic, social, sexual - but its object is always exterior to the man. A man's presence suggests that he is capable of doing to you or for you. By contrast, a woman's presence expresses her own attitude to herself, and defines what can and cannot be done to her. Presence for a woman is so intrinsic to her person that men tend to think of it as an almost physical emanation, a kind of heat or smell or aura."

Chapter four: Another images only chapter. Hooray!!

Chapter five: Is about how oil paintings were mostly a way for the rich to brag about themselves or their possessions. Berger notes that: "This analogy between possessing and the way of seeing which is incorporated in oil paintings, is a factor usually ignored by art experts and historians. Significantly enough, it is an anthropologist (Levi-Strauss) who has come closest to recognizing it."

Chapter six: One more images only chapter. I love that book!!!

Chapter seven:  Is mainly about advertising and its relation to oil paintings. The neat idea discussed in this chapter is that advertising is all about envy - envying the model in that dress, envying your future self wearing that dress, and all the affects this has on life that revolves around images of advertising.

Done. I am sure that my daughter will comment on this post, and will hopefully correct many of my ideas about the book, especially the images only chapters!!!!


Anonymous said...

Amazing review mom!

I think you summarized chapter three very well, and since that is where most of the meat is I think you did a great job.

Its funny that you say you know nothing about art, but seem to enjoy skimming the pictures and less interested in reading the text, haha.

I think you should read Foucault next. :)

You and baba can read 'The Birth of the Clinic' together .. or 'Madness and Civilization'.

Proud of you mom!

Mohamed Hanno said...

Did you delete my comment to this post?I sure did post one.

nahoul said...

You posted your comment at the Mark Twain post, and thus confused the heck out of me.
But since you are a Mastoul too, I figured out what happened.