Berger, John · Ways of Seeing

John Berger’s essay, borrowing ideas from Walter Benjamin and other authors covered in this course, explores the way that we see and gaze at images. Looking means different things to different people, but when we do look we look with assumptions. How we see images is affected by what we already know or believe.

There are 2 ways of viewing an image – as the maker and as the audience. When we see a work of art, its historical context is important in its interpretation. A work of art’s value is about its original context, and with devaluing an image it becomes accessible losing its preciousness. Reproduction changes seeing, as it no longer exists in its original time and space. That is a work’s uniqueness. We view art of the past differently than if we existed at the time they were created.

Chloe Wise’s silicone sculptures of bread and bags have us second-guessing what we’re looking at. Her paintings, part of the Dutch still-life genre, are remixed for the 21st Century. In addition to the fruits and vegetables normally seen, there are also cartons of soymilk and non-dairy alternatives proclaiming another type of modern wealth.

Sylvia Sleigh. At the Turkish Bath, 1976.

A good male nude is hard to find. Sylvia Sleigh’s paintings of nude men show them as whole beings, not just sexual objects for our gaze.

I love early video art because viewing it today, you can see the potential for the manipulation of images. Peter Campus’s Three Transitions (1973) is so fantastic in its simplicity, and still impresses viewers today.