Reflecting on: John Berger ~ Ways of seeing, Episode 1 (1972)

I’ve just watched the first episode of Ways of Seeing by John Berger. As I watched I made some notes of phrases that stood out to me, or my responses to his ideas, these aren’t arranged as an essay merely an arrangement of thoughts for my own reference.

“The images come to you. You do not go to them. The days of pilgrimage are over. It is the image of the painting which travels now.”


“The meaning of a painting no longer resides on it’s unique painted surface, which it is only possible to see in one place at one time. It’s meaning ,or a large part of it has become transmittable. It comes to you, this meaning, like the news of an event. It has become information of a sort.”


” A lot more is possible, but only is art is stripped of the false mystery and the false religiosity which surrounds it.”

What meaning do reproductions acquire when we hang them on our walls at home?

The issue of silence – paintings do not speak, they are silent, he claims this makes them easily pray to manipulation but the movement of the camera, or movement of our thoughts/eye. We are at the mercy of the areas chosen to be focussed on and we lose sight of the painting or work before us as a whole. When we look at a painting in person it exists as a whole piece, when we view it by film or television we see it viewed in stages and fragments through a sequence of time.

He also makes note of the use of music to accompany the viewing of a work of art changes the feeling or meaning of the piece we are viewing. And I agree with this, music itself speaks has a connotation or feeling which can be used to manipulate our feelings towards an image or even an event.

He makes comment on how we interpret meaning of images when we see them alongside other images for instance in a magazine, they vie for attention. How much more does this issue apply to viewing art work on platforms like instagram or Pinterest where you can see painting after painting, the eye and brain become full of so many visual messages. Sometimes looking at images alongside each other, can feel like trying to focus on one persons distinct voice in the middle of a loud crowd. It’s possible but involves a considerable amount of concentration.

I particularly liked this comment; “Images can be used like words, we can talk with them”. It sums up visual language in an accessible way.

He captures a feeling I have often felt when seeing art through an art book;

“For instance, the art book depends upon reproductions, yet often what the reproductions make accessible, a text begins to make inaccessible. What might become part of our language is jealously guarded and kept within the confines of an art expert.”

Interestingly Berger also comments on the fact that it was not possible to have direct dialogue with him about the programme, he was in control of the perspective shared. Today we live in a world where social media means dialogue between artists, musicians, businesses and consumers is becoming increasingly possible.


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