Tag Archives: Sistine

Ways of Seeing by John Berger

I have just read a good book by John Berger called Ways of Seeing (1972) London: Penguin. ISBN: 978-0-141-03579-6.

The book complemented a BBC four part TV series of the same name first broadcasted in 1974 and is available to watch on YouTube.  The T.V. series and book was ground breaking work for demystifying the Art of oil paintings and demonstrating how the reading of pictures has changed and been adapted for modern life.  John Berger begins by explaining how photography has had a dramatic effect on art particularly for the oil painting by both making it more democratically available to be seen by many but by producing facsimile copies it has also changed the way pictures are and can be seen.  For example a facsimile of Adam and God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome will not be identical (a perfect double) as there will only be one original and can only be seen in situ above your head.  Therefor any facsimile will be seen out on context of it’s location and out of context from the rest of the fresco.  By removing the original context will potentially change the meaning and interpretation of the picture.

Publicity – John Berger has used examples of advertising (he refers to it as publicity) to demonstrate how the meanings of pictures can be changed and manipulated.  He also discussed how the Nude has been used in art and how the pictorial language for the female Nude has changed over the centuries from medieval Adam and Eve frescos to the 19th century realists illustrating the symbols of vanity, desire, purity, and ownership, etc. that have been associated with the Nude in the language of the picture.  Again John Berger has illustrated how modern photographers have used oil painting of nudes to construct their own nude images by copying poses and themes and how advertising has also used the nude to convey a message for commerce.

Ways of Seeing is made up of seven chapters, three of these chapters are picture essays with no text.

A good book but perhaps a little hard to understand without watching the BBC series as well.  However, it is easy to find on YouTube and I am sure the BBC still broadcast it for Schools and Colleges.