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John Berger’s ”Ways of Seeing”

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  • Pages: 5
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  • Category: Art Berger

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John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing”
John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing” examines points of view in art through an in-depth analysis of artistic perspectives, how it is interpreted, and the impact of reproductions in today’s modern society. Berger’s explanation of reproductions and how art is interpreted differently than in the past is valid because only the artist will know the true meaning of his work and be able to portray it effectively. Pictures are the best way to communicate a point. Some things that words cannot describe can be depicted through an image. With reproductions people obtain different perspectives and interpret it in a different way. The summary of John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing” is about how different people perceive art, the way it has changed over time, and how technology and reproductions have affected it. Berger describes the way people look at art now compared to how they did in the past due to the impact of reproductions. He argues that sight is the most important sense that people have and how the invention of the camera caused changes in art and the way people view it. The first reading of “Ways of Seeing” provides information, but after multiple readings some of his most interesting points are revealed. Berger appears to be a huge art critic. Some readers look up to Berger but some also judge his views on art. His writings can be very difficult to read and understand but his points are very true and interesting.

Perspective is a particular attitude toward, or a way of regarding something. Not one person has the same exact perspective to something as another person. Berger starts by explaining how art was viewed in the past compared to today. He states, “Today we see the past as nobody saw it before. We actually perceive it in a different way” (Berger 147). The meaning of an artwork is perceived differently by people over a period of time. These perceptions can change when people apply personal values, social relations, and past experiences to understand the artwork. Following perceptions come assumptions and over-analyzing which hides the actual meaning of the artwork leading to mystification. Berger describes mystification as “The process of explaining away what might otherwise be evident” (Berger 146). By this Berger is saying that when people fail to understand an artwork they become confused and misinterpret the work. This could lead to a false meaning to the artwork.

Berger provides an example of a privileged minority who makes assumptions of artwork and invent a history to justify the role of the ruling class (Berger 144). Therefore, the proper meaning of an artwork is mystified since different assumptions and perceptions give it new meanings. When an artwork and its meaning are mystified people are deprived from the history they belong in (Berger 144). Knowledge of the past is lost due to the privileged minority making up the past and giving new meanings to artwork. Berger describes art interpretation as the visions of the image maker, assumptions and mystification (Berger 143). The vision of the person providing the image is affected by their perspective and how they produced the image. This can be affected by lighting, positioning and color. Only the artist can interpret their work correctly. Berger states that, “An image became a record of how X had seen Y.” (Berger 143) Compare this to the American flag. A foreigner has an entirely different view of the flag versus an American. To an American citizen the flag symbolizes freedom, pride, and liberty. The flag represents not only the country but the people as well.

A foreigner just looks at the flag as another country’s flag and may have a completely different assumption or perceive it in a different way. By this, people just interpret certain things different ways. Nothing has the same meaning to one person as another. People come up with their own assumptions when viewing a work of art. These assumptions may not be the most accurate based on today’s world. The meaning of the artwork in the past could have represented something that people do not know about now. In the past, paintings were the only way to record an event so they were very special to people. Paintings were like photographs in today’s world. The way people view art today changed when the camera was invented. This allowed artworks to be reproduced and observed by many more people rather than a select few. In return, different perspectives and meanings were developed because the reproductions were often placed with text or other artworks. Reproductions caused art to be placed by visual appearance and value. Authenticity is vital since an artwork can be reproduced so easy. An authentic painting is much more valuable than a reproduction.

With an authentic painting the true meaning can be portrayed effectively, giving viewers the correct perception and assumption. While reproductions have caused lots of issues, art can be experienced by more people because of them. Now, reproductions are placed on postcards, books, televisions, and posters. Since art is easy to get, popular works are being used for other purposes such as advertisements, and different products to draw customer’s attention. The ways in which art is perceived has changed dramatically over time due to social changes and improved technology. The location of a painting can change the way a person perceives it as well. When there was only one painting the viewer would have to travel to the painting. Along with the painting the viewer would observe all the surroundings around the artwork. The paintings surroundings can have a meaning, almost like pictures in a church. Pictures in a church represent the gospel and what is being preached. Each one has a specific meaning and help people understand the gospel. Then imagine the same picture on a television screen in someone’s house. The mood acquired would be completely different and might present a different meaning. Now that people view art in many different places it is perceived it in a different way because of the environment it is in. Berger’s “Ways of Seeing” gives us a different analysis of how we look at artwork. One artwork can have many different perspectives and assumptions. His description evaluates the way perspective affects our views and interpretations of artwork. Assumptions have affected how we view art.

The assumptions of artwork from the past influence the view of present artworks resulting in mysticism. The invention of the camera caused a definite change in how artwork is viewed in today’s society. Images are now reproduced which causes the image to not be so unique, and this often affects our perception and interpretation. With this being said, the image producer’s vision can be affected as well. In conclusion Berger’s “Ways of Seeing” gives an interesting viewpoint and analysis of how individuals perceive, interpret, and react to artwork.

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