Ways of Seeing

📺 John Berger’s Ways of Seeing on YouTube
Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4

Four installment 1970s BBC TV series on art and European oil painting as interpreted by John Berger.

I don’t know who Berger is

Ep. 1 - Introduction

Introduction with a particular emphasis on Berger’s methodology and manner of presentation. Also covers the presentation of art, European tradition, paintings as information, reproduction, photography’s influence on painting and mysticism.

Notably he goes through how they’ll be using the possibilities of the camera to:

Using the introduction in this manner — not only as some sort of table of contents — but also as a way of explaining the way he’ll progress through the contents makes Berger’s voice seem honest and truthful; he does not hide the (in any and all cases obvious and necessary) opinionated nature of his presentation.

This episode does indeed give a certain “meta quality” to the series.

Ep. 2 - Women and art

The classical European nude often, if not always, features naked women (as opposed to men). Given that the images were painted by men, all the images portray women as men see them, thus further positioning the male gaze as the only relevant gaze.

Berger also comments that this particular portraial of women has affected the way women see themselves, be it in the mirror or under their inner eye. Berger talks about this with a group of women while smoking and drinking wine.

Women in oil painting are (almost) always displayed with certain postures and facial expressions, all consstructed to make them seem innocent, simple and inherently only sexual beings; always readily available for sex given the man’s lust.

Women were positioned, not with closed arms and bent backs, as if to hide or cover themselves up, but always in open positions, displaying the features the artist (men) deemed important. Their inner state and emotions are in turn irrelevant; any display of shyness of reluctance is unwanted, in these depictions women are made to be objects of male desire.

In this regard Berger talks about the body as a suit — a uniform you can’t ever take off. A uniform is something we put on to display something in a certain context. By depicting females in the nude in this way, presenting themselves in this way, one makes their bodies beome a uniform; used to display something. The problemn is of course as Berger says, that bodies cannot be shed; it is the innermost layer.

Berger also notes the way the medium, the oil painting, enables very vivid reproductions of the quality and texture of textiles and garments. It enabled transparency and lightness that in turn was used to further sexualise the women.

Ep. 3 - Art, value and signaling

Oil paintings were always presented in a certain space, and as only one copy existed, seeing the painting also involved seeing the space. That is the space was a part of the painting in a way.

Oil paintings used this way was a means of displaying riches and stature: the contents of the image itself as well as the context of the image; not only its embellished frame but also the castle it hangs in and the ample lands that surround it both depict this very quality; riches. Thus, we have a two-fold presentation the contents as well as the “frame” doubly signal status.

Reproduction and photography changed this as it made the photos “shed” the space they necessarilly had to be surrounded by. The abundance of copies makes the images take on a more iconographic nature in that their essence can be used to depict certain moods and energies.

Notably the context and freedom of placement is not the only thing changed by easy reproduction. Images could now also be cut up and rearranged, their meanings altered and abused at will.

Ep. 4 - Publicity

Sexual and other symbols used in imagery to make us feel certain things and thus consume in certain ways. Tied to identity.

I don’t remember much from this part

Various point I’m not able to place in episodes


Oil painting was deamon-like and opressing; a tool for Big Dick Energy injection. Reproduction did in some ways re-distribute some of this power even though the mysticism (high prices) of the works (and art in general) remain ever omnipresent.

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