‘Ways of Seeing’
Death of John Berger 2 Jan 2017 · Paris, France
John Berger born on 5 November 1926. English art critic, novelist, painter and poet. His novel G. won the 1972 Booker Prize, and his essay on art criticism Ways of Seeing, written as an accompaniment to a BBC series I have been watching again since its first showing on television in the early 70s.
I was prompted to revisit this monumental work by an excellent essay; How John Berger taught us to see - The mind's eye by Colin MacCabe / October 13, 2016. Published in November 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine.
‘He has asked, as Bob Hope did, for no celebrations of a birthday where “the candles cost more than the cake.” There can however, be no doubt that glasses will be raised across the world on 5th November for his 90th birthday by those who have worked with John Berger. There are certainly hundreds, maybe even thousands of them because Berger has always managed to live several lifetimes at once.’‘Ways of Seeing consisted of just four 30-minute episodes, first shown in 1972. Looking back, the ambition was extraordinary. With little more screen time than a typical Hollywood film, the series did not merely canter through the evolution of western art but located that history in its ideological and economic settings.
Only three years before, Kenneth Clark’s 14-hour BBC blockbuster, Civilisation, had told the story of the artistic canon as if creativity had no connection to material history. Berger refused that account. And remarkably, his disruptive documentaries would ultimately have more effect than the cultural juggernaut that was Civilisation. The film and the spin-off book which followed have been crucial primers to many generations of students struggling to conjugate art and politics, and even today are enjoyed on YouTube.’
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pDE4VX_9Kk (First Episode)
Throughout Ways of Seeing Berger, challenges received assumptions about the meaning of artworks and such attendant notions as beauty, truth, and genius.
Berger changed forever my way of seeing not only European oil painting but how to look again with fresh eyes at western visual culture.
©Jeff Guess 2017