JOHN BERGER: WAYS OF SEEING – considering the hidden ideologies of art, complete BBC series, episodes 1-4

Episode 1 of 4

 

Ways of Seeing is a 1972 BBC four-part television series of 30-minute films created by writer John Berger and producer Mike Dibb. Berger’s scripts were also adapted into a book of the same name. The series and book criticize traditional Western cultural aesthetics by raising questions about hidden ideologies in visual images. The series is partially a response to Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation series, which represents a more traditionalist view of the Western artistic and cultural canon.~1

“Mr Berger collapsed the space between the viewer and the art, between high culture and low, placing art within the material world of consumerism and class. He also, importantly, was one of the first art critics to speak about the male gaze and the depiction of women in art. Mr Berger adapted and developed the segments into a book which became similarly seminal. While “Ways of Seeing” takes up serious ideological debates with a heavy hand—Marxist, feminist and post-colonial—it also, more generally, encouraged generations of readers and viewers to look more closely and critically at the visual and material world around them and make art a part of life.”~2

“The book Ways of Seeing was written by Berger and Dibb, along with Sven Blomberg, Chris Fox, and Richard Hollis. The book consists of seven numbered essays: four using words and images; and three essays using only images. The book has contributed to feminist readings of popular culture, through essays that focus particularly on how women are portrayed in advertisements and oil paintings. Ways of Seeing is considered a seminal text for current studies of visual culture and art history.

The first part of the television series drew on ideas from Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction arguing that through reproduction an Old Master’s painting’s modern context is severed from that which existed at the time of its making. The second film discusses the female nude. Berger asserts that only twenty or thirty old masters depict a woman as herself rather than as a subject of male idealisation or desire. The third programme is on the use of oil paint as a means of depicting or reflecting the status of the individuals who commissioned the work of art. In the fourth programme, on publicity and advertising, Berger argues that colour photography has taken over the role of oil paint, though the context is reversed. An idealised potential for the viewer (via consumption) is considered a substitution for the actual reality depicted in old master portraits.” ~1

“Controversial at the time – its focus on the tacit ideologies of Old Masters led one critic to liken it to “Mao’s Little Red Book for a generation of art students” – it’s now regarded not only as a landmark work of British arts broadcasting, but as a key moment in the democratisation of art education. Its 40th anniversary has been marked at a series of public talks and at a major Berger conference at King’s College London.”~3

“For many Britons of a certain age, John Berger literally changed the way they saw the world. In 1972, his four-part BBC series, “Ways of Seeing”, took on accepted wisdom about art and culture, and at a time when only two or three channels existed he held a captive audience. Prior to this, leading British critics held up art as an elite object for worship, appraised for quality and attribution, with the Old Masters viewed as demigods. Mr Berger collapsed the space between the viewer and the art, between high culture and low, placing art within the material world of consumerism and class. He also, importantly, was one of the first art critics to speak about the male gaze and the depiction of women in art. Mr Berger adapted and developed the segments into a book which became similarly seminal. While “Ways of Seeing” takes up serious ideological debates with a heavy hand—Marxist, feminist and post-colonial—it also, more generally, encouraged generations of readers and viewers to look more closely and critically at the visual and material world around them and make art a part of life.”~2

Episode 2 of4

Episode 3 of 4

Episode 4 of 4

 

Sources:

  • ~1: wikipedia, john berger, ways of seeing
  • ~2 ways of seeing john berger, the economist, Sep 9th 2016
  • ~3 ways of seeing opened our eyes to visual culture, the guardian, Friday 7 September 2012

 

 

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