An Overview of John Berger's Article Ways of Seeing

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Published: Mar 14, 2019

Words: 1494|Pages: 3|8 min read

Published: Mar 14, 2019

John Berger wrote an article entitled Ways of Seeing . In this article of his, he imposes his opinion of works of art , what constitutes a work of art. He also talks about reproductions of art. His perception of reproductions is that they pervert the original piece, and that by reproduction the beauty and value of the piece is taken away, that the piece is not the same because it does not represent anymore what the artist originally intended. I do not agree with Berger. I do not see reproductions of art to be perversions of the original, and I also do not agree with his outline for a work of art . Reproduction allows people to see something they might never have, they allow the artist to gain more exposure, whereas if there had been no reproduction, only a handful of people might have seen it. As to what a work of art is, that is something I believe to be totally up to the observer. What one may perceive to be beautiful, an opinion perhaps brought on by personal experiences, another may not see the same way.

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A work of art I truly enjoy and respect is Salvador Dali s Table with Landscape . The joy of the painting for me comes from the intricacies that Dali weaves into the painting. The painting has many levels to it, a succession of realizations occur if the painting is studied long enough. When I first saw this painting, I saw a cup on a table, with a lot of scenery in the background. I do not consider myself someone who appreciates art in any particular form, so at first all I saw was a bland table with a cup on it. When I looked closer however, I began to see much more to the picture. The neck of the cup seemed to be part of a face, the mouth and nose of the face lying in the table. The scenery that I had previously disregarded as unimportant revealed itself to be much more. At the very top of the painting was a mountain landscape, and below it, mixed into the scenery, standing behind the cup on the table, was a dog! A dog? I said. Why on earth would Dali put a dog in his painting, and moreover, why would we make it such a concealed part of the painting. I did not understand at first Dali s reasoning for this strange painting, but as soon as I let go of my confusions, the painting started to make sense to me. I no longer cared what the painting had meant to Dali when he was painting it, but rather I was interested in what the painting meant to me. Perhaps this was wrong of me to totally disregard the painter s initial reason for creating the picture, but what concerned me most was the idea of the painting that was taking shape in my mind. I saw the painting as a part of my mind, seemingly one huge mass of thoughts and ideas thrown together making completely no sense. But when I looked closer, I could pick out individual parts of the painting. The parts might not have been related, but never the less they were separate. I found that my mind was the same way. It was a huge mass of ideas thrown together, but if I took the time to think, I could separate all the different things I was thinking, and individually they all made sense. This is something I would do when I am confused, if there is too much going on in my head that it seems it is all one big mess, I take the time to separate the ideas and I slowly begin to understand my situation better. When I tell people about this painting and what it means to me, they often have no idea of what I could possibly mean, but the fact that they don t understand me is inconsequential, because the painting is special to me for my own reasons, and that is what is important to me.

Before in this essay, I referred to Dali s painting as a work of art . What is a work of art ? Who determines what is or is not a work of art ? Berger talks about works of art , mainly when he refers to common paintings that most people recognize by name. Is this to imply that a piece of art has to be well known in order to be considered a work of art ? What about before these works of art were famous. They were merely canvases filled with paint, the same as they are today, yet at the time when they were produced, they were not immediately considered revolutionary and inspirational for their time. It took people to who had the means to view these paintings to give them such a distinction. Once again, I will repeat, people who had the means. The poor people of the time could not afford such luxuries to view pieces of art, so a painter obtained his praise from the high class solely, and only once the painting was famous enough to gain exposure could the lower class see it and make their own judgements, too late of course since the piece had already been dubbed a work of art and was revered. The fact that the piece was considered a work of art by one group may mean nothing to another person. This is because what one person may see to be an example of beauty in a painting, another person might have a different opinion. That is why I say a work of art is completely in the eye of the beholder, that is, art is a personal thing and we cannot expect a person to see exactly what we see, and appreciate it the same way as we may.

Berger is strongly against reproduction of art. He says it perverts the original piece and takes away from its meaning. I cannot totally disagree with Berger that the idea of art may change with other people s perceptions, but I cannot agree with him that it is necessarily a bad thing. With the reproduction comes the void of what the painting means. The artist is no longer always there to tell you what he felt when painting that specific piece. That however, is to me the beautiful part of art. Being able to interpret the painting for your own reasons is a freedom that allows us to be creative. Berger argues that this sense of understanding the painting is called mystification (Berger, 108). It is nothing less than the painting working upon us (Berger, 109). He considers the artist to be a seducer, to make us think we understand the painting. Well then, which is it, do we understand the painting or don t we? It is true that we cannot understand the painter s perspective from looking at the painting itself, but we can understand the painting for our own reasons, based on our own experiences. In the painting I described earlier, there are many possibilities as to what someone s first interpretation might be, or what would be the first thing they saw in the painting. I myself initially saw a cup on a table, but someone else might see the face in the cup first, or the dog in the background. All these reasons are because the painting means something different to each person. Also, would other people see all the aspects of the painting as I did, or would they merely see one thing surrounded by a massive amount of random items in the painting that seem to have no connection. The fact is, it does not matter. The way I interpret the painting will most probably be different from someone else s interpretation, that is because we look for different things in the painting. Our minds are stimulated in different ways. If we were not allowed to see the painting in our own light, if we were forced to see what the painter had originally intended, then our creative forces would be crippled, and our own ideas would mean nothing. In reality, our own ideas mean everything to us, they make us who we are, allow us to think freely, and draw our own conclusions.

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As I said, I do not believe a work of art can be decided upon by a small group of people, because then only their points of view are considered when making the decision. Berger was entitled to his own opinion on art reproduction. His own opinion is valid purely for the fact that it is his opinion and cannot be proven wrong by anyone because a person s opinion is his or her own idea, not a true or false statement.

Works Cited

  1. Berger, J. (1972). Ways of seeing. Penguin Books.
  2. Folsom, C. (2005). The aesthetic appeal of art reproductions. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 63(4), 337-349.
  3. Danto, A. C. (1981). The transfiguration of the commonplace: A philosophy of art. Harvard University Press.
  4. Elkins, J. (2008). What painting is: How to think about oil painting using the language of alchemy. Routledge.
  5. Benjamin, W. (1936). The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, 5(1), 40-68.
  6. Shiner, L. E. (2003). The invention of art: A cultural history. University of Chicago Press.
  7. Gombrich, E. H. (1995). The story of art. Phaidon Press.
  8. Arnheim, R. (2004). Art and visual perception: A psychology of the creative eye. University of California Press.
  9. Derrida, J. (1987). The truth in painting. University of Chicago Press.
  10. Baxandall, M. (1985). Patterns of intention: On the historical explanation of pictures. Yale University Press.
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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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An Overview Of John Berger’s Article Ways Of Seeing. (2019, March 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 19, 2024, from
“An Overview Of John Berger’s Article Ways Of Seeing.” GradesFixer, 12 Mar. 2019,
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