Analysis of Berger's "Ways of Seeing"

Topics: Modernism, Meaning of life, Visual arts Pages: 3 (1102 words) Published: August 31, 2012
The central focus of Berger’s Ways of Seeing is an argument for the importance of image. Berger contends that images are more accurate and richer than literature because they present a direct testimony about the world which surrounded other people at other times in a way that no relic or text from the past can. Addato (2008) lends credence to this assertion by stating how the rediscovery of portraits by a Richard Samuel Roberts who was a portrait photographer for the black community of Columbia, South Carolina were essential l documents of lives once lost to public view and that the rediscovery gave both blacks and whites the chance to see the black community as it once saw itself. Berger claims that the presentation of image as art allows images to be made remote by assumptions such as beauty, truth, civilization and art when people look at it, assumptions which no longer hold true. To Berger, the intent of the privileged minority to invent a history which justifies the role of the ruling class leads to the mystification of works of art since such justification no longer makes sense in modern times. Berger explains mystification as the process of clarifying what otherwise would be evidentiary and illustrates with the study published on the painter Frans Hals where the author mystifies Hal’s paintings by giving meaning to the images. Berger suggests that a painting works on us as much as it relates to our own observation of people, gestures, faces and institutions due to the fact that we still live in a society of comparable social relations and moral values. Berger goes on to talk about perspective, unique to European art and first established in early Renaissance. He argues that the art of the past are perceived in a different way. This perspective relies on the beholder’s eye. Hooks (1995) refers to this perspective by an example of how her sisters and her viewed the picture of her father in different ways as shaped by their relationships with him, the...

References: Addato, Kiku. 2008. Picture Perfect: Life in the Age of the Photo Op. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Berger, John. 1977. Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin Books.
Hall, Stuart. 1980. “Encoding/decoding.” In Working Papers in Cultural Studies, 1972-79, 128-138. London: Hutchinson.
Hooks, Bell. 1995. Art on My Mind. New York: The New Press.
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