Monday, May 22, 2017

John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 1 (1972)

Your Monday movie this week is episode one in a short series put out by the BBC back in the early 1970s.  I can gladly say that was before my time yet sadly cannot say I didn't escape that horrible fashion era. This first episode wasn't exactly what I had expected but I found it interesting nonetheless.  It focuses on how advances in photography have changed the way we view art.  I need to make a note to see if they've done an updated version of this show because wow, has that technology changed since 1972. One thing that I really considered, after watching, was how a painting can look different out of context. If an altar piece is seen somewhere other than a church does it have the same sort of impact?  Towards the end Berger shows a group of school children a Caravaggio and asked them what they thought of the painting. This was worth watching alone.
The show still left me wondering about how we look at things. For example, when someone urges you to watch a movie in the theatre, in IMAX even, they tell you this because it obviously made them feel a certain way, watching it on a big screen with surround sound that could shake their shoelaces.  It doesn't look and feel the same as watching it on a 32" screen at home. Some paintings, such as altar pieces, were surely meant to be seen in person in the church rather than on a page of a book.  Is it the job of the modern day artist to make work that can be seen on every platform? Should it be a goal? Lots of things to consider here.  


  1. I always thought any painting or image, by virtue of being an image and not the thing itself is to greater or lesser degree out of context. Sometimes I think I view art superficially because my chief interest is the act of it being painted, how it was done, etc. I almost never consider the content, or if I do, secondarily. On the other hand, before it was in a church or museum it was in the artist's studio and that was all about how it was done. So how far out of context are we? And our pictures go into multiple contexts whether we like it or not. Maybe the best we can do is try to make something engaging in any context, But that argument favors form over content? Is that right? It could lead to pretty but empty art. I wonder if his subsequent shows explore that? Very good find, here.

    1. I definitely think a painter looks at another painting differently. Just look at how art historians describe a painting, it's, almost always, nothing like the way I would describe. Aside from what the show is trying to demonstrate I think it's the job of a painter to get people to view the painting differently. The kids looking at the Caravaggio is a great example of that. They're not talking about technique or composition, they're imagining all of these other scenarios. I loved that. Lots of food for thought in this. I look forward to watching the rest of the episodes.