Ways of Seeing - John Berger

Last summer I took my children to the Kroller Moller Museum in Apeldoorn. This museum is home to the second largest collection of paintings from Van Gogh and has an impressive number work from famous painters included Monet and Mondriaan. The kids had studied Van Gogh in school and I thought it would be nice for them to see the work in real. You can image how surprised and at the same time disappointed I was when they were very quickly bored and wanted to leave: 'We can look at all these paintings online', they said!

'Ways of Seeing', by John Berger discusses this issue, amongst others. How has the function and status of an image changed now that it can be copied and seen on different sites by a large public? Has it devalued the image itself, in what sense has the viewers experience changed now that it has access to the images everywhere, any time? 

I enjoyed reading this book. Berger gives a very no nonsense, demystified as he calls it himself view on art and images, the way we look at them and how the meaning and value of its subjects has changed and is viewed at. 

I found this mind map on a blog by Austin Kleon and it's a nice reflection of the book's main ideas:

Kleon, A. (2008) WAYS OF SEEING BY JOHN BERGER [mind map]. Available at: http://austinkleon.com/2008/10/19/ways-of-seeing-by-john-berger/ (Accessed: 10 August 2015).

I have written down a few quotes that I found particularly interesting and had a look at a lot of the paintings that the book refers to. All in all a great read and I'm eager to read more of Berger's books!

'Mutual solitude: The way in which each sees the other confirms his own view of himself.' pg 96

'The special qualities of oil painting lent themselves to a special system of conventions for representing the visible. The sum total of these conventions is the way of seeing invented by oil painting. It is usually said that the oil painting in its frame is like an imaginary window open on to the world. This is roughly the tradition's own image of itself. - even allowing for all the stylistic changes (Mannerist, Baroque, neo-Classic, Realist, etc.) which took place during four centuries. We are arguing that if one studies the culture of the European oil painting as a whole, and if one leaves aside its own claims for itself, its model is not so much a framed window open on to the world as a safe let into the wall, a safe in which the visible has been deposited.' pg 109

'Within publicity, choices are offered between this cream and that cream, that car and this car, but publicity as a system only makes a single proposal.'

'It proposes to each of us that we transform ourselves, or our lives, by buying something more. This more, it proposes, will make us in some way richer - even though we will be poorer by having spent our money.

Publicity persuades us of such a transformation by showing us people who have apparently been transformed and are, as a result, enviable. The state of being envied is what constitutes glamour. And publicity is the process of manufacturing glamour.' pg 131

'The happiness of being envied is glamour. Being envied is a solitary form of reassurance. '' pg 132

'The publicity image steals her love of herself as she is, and offers it back to her for the price of the product.' pg 134

'publicity is essentially eventless' pg 153

'All hopes are gathered together, made homogeneous, simplified, so that they become the intense yet vague, magical yet repeatable promise offered in every purchase.'

References: Berger, J. (2009) Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin Group UK.