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Analysis of John Berger’s ways of seeing

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In John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing,” his use of artist jargon makes it difficult for the casual reader to comprehend a lot of the points he makes. A section that demonstrates this can be found in the first full paragraph on page 145. Berger uses phrases such as “compositional unity” and “harmonious fusion” when analyzing the paintings Regents of the Old Men’s Alms House and Regentesses of the Old Men’s Alms House. His language can be understood by different readers in drastically different ways, which makes his points hard to understand. In this paragraph, I believe that Berger is trying to say that the combination of emotions portrayed by the facial expressions, posture and positions of the subjects give the painting its value.

In part of the third sentence, “Terms like harmonious fusion, unforgettable contrast, reaching a peak of breadth and strength” Berger uses a host of descriptive terms that require a lot of thought to uncover their meanings. It’s first important to understand what Berger explains is the consequence of using these terms. “transfer the image from the plane of lived experience, to that of disinterested art appreciation” This states that they change people’s view of the painting from an actual scene they’re witnessing to a fictional depiction of a group interacting. In other words, the terms expose the paintings as art instead of reality. When he says “harmonious fusion,” I believe he means that the positioning of the characters around each other creates a harmony of good-feeling among them that the individuals would not create on their own.

Their facial expressions alone show a somber mood, but the paintings themselves show camaraderie and contentment. “Unforgettable contrast” means that the characters each appear to have different and complementary personalities and expressions. This instills a somewhat romantic feel into the paintings, meaning that it’s ideal but not realistic. The terms peak of breadth and strength signify that the characters are powerful, noble, and accomplished people, which Berger purports to be the result of them supplying him with the necessities he needs to live his life.

In “Ways of Seeing,” John Berger uses terminology meant for an audience highly experienced in the field of art, which increases the difficulty for the layman reader. A fine example comes about in his analysis of analysis of
Frans Hals’ paintings of the regents and regentesses of the old men’s alms house. His descriptive language requires extra thought in order to develop an understanding of his explanations and avoid being misconceived by future points.

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