The aim of this paper is to present you with the reflections drawn on the picture of a woman wearing a T-shirt presented on one of the pages of Berger’s essay ‘Ways of seeing’.
Berger published this essay which actually consists a paper of criticism as far as art and its perception is concerned in 1972. A television programme on BBC had come before, which arouse great interest within the borders of the artistic community and attracted a great number of viewers.
The book compared to the TV series has the advantage of including photographs which either accompany the text or stand on their own provoking a number of reflections to the reader.
Taking into consideration the fact that the photographs, pictures, paintings and these kinds of pieces of art is the field of art which is put under criticism on behalf of Berger, special attention should be paid to the way that these photographs are used in this essay by Berger.
This paper is to emphasize on a specific picture, the one of the woman wearing a T-shirt. In order to reflect on a specific part of an essay it is advisable to have the general idea of the essay’s thematic core and allegorical meaning.
Therefore, a general gist on what Berger supports in his theory of adopting a critical attitude towards art and what it stands for, is necessary.
It is not always easy to understand the message a writer wants to put across or the message a critic wants indicate and put emphasis on. There is always this underlying level of interpretation which depends on the reader’s and / or viewer’s perception and personal point of view.
It could be argued that this is exactly the main point of Berger’s critical approach to art.
Art is meant by the creators to mean something but what artists keep in mind when they create something is not what is perceived by the audience.
It seems that Berger proves the truth lying in the ambiguous nature of art. Art is not meant to mean something concrete or solid of specifically and widely acknowledged value to all.
As Berger states from the very beginning of his essay ‘Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.’
The paper will present you with the personal reflection created by the specific photograph of the woman wearing a t-shirt. Is there a specific thought that Berger wishes to arise within the mind and soul of his readers? Is it a picture used on his behalf just in order to empower his own personal arguments as far as art and his attitude towards it, is concerned?
Berger wishes foremost to emphasize on the fact that art has changed in terms of being used as means of putting across messages. He believes that art depends on its era and classical works of art which have been always considered to indicate something particular have changed function. What does that mean? It simply means that the mystification, historical significance and value lying in each piece of art depends on the needs of each era and people living in it.
Art is to speak to people’s souls and minds so all kinds of reproductions are a natural outcome of people’s need to approach and understand art in the way that covers their personal questions on the mysteries of their existence, of their life, of their mortal journey.
Berger states that in plain words ‘The art of the past no longer exists as it once did. Its authority is lost. In its place there is a language of images. What matters now is who uses that language for what purpose. This touches upon questions of copyright for reproduction, the ownership of art presses and publishers, the total policy of public art galleries and museums. As usually presented, these are narrow professional matters. One of the aims of this essay has been to show that what is really at stake is much longer. A people or a class which is cut off from its own past is far less free to choose and to act as a people or class than one that has been able to situate itself in history. That is why – and this is the only reason why – the entire art of the past has now become a political issue.’
In other words Berger wants to emphasize and awaken his readers as far as the issue of the political nature of art is concerned. Art in its forms of being reproduced is used so that it can conquer people’s minds or convince them towards something particular.
Apart from all the aspects involved in the issue of reproduction which are of financial and economic nature, there is this deep issue of the power of reproduction and personalizing art. It is the issue of what goals are served through the reproduction of art. Are the goals of economic nature? Is art used in such a way that drives masses towards a specific way of thinking and perceiving art? Is there a lying danger of art losing its historical originality and value?
These are the main questions addressed to the readers on Berger’s behalf and these are the questions risen by the use of this specific picture of the woman wearing this t-shirt.
It is this use of the picture with no accompanying text or words which enlightens and empowers the power of the picture even more.
The woman wearing this t-shirt rises questions on two issues. What is the main reason that Berger includes this specific photograph in his essay? And what is the reason for its being reproduced by its creators?
Is there a specific message that needs to be put across? Has the image of Mona Lisa lost its original value? What does that woman wearing this T-shirt with the image of Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci stand for?
What Berger wants to show is in my personal point of view the fact that is stated in the above mentioned ending of his essay. He says that that ‘the entire art of the past has now become a political issue’. This image of this woman highlights the political nature which exists and is attributed to the use of art nowadays.
Who is to put a border or limit to the way and means in which art is reproduced? And should societies have some kind of limitation? Is it ethical for art to be reproduced? And who is to know or inform people on the reason of each reproduction?
These are the main questions which are highlighted by the use if this particular image.
John Berger, ‘Ways of Seeing’, British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books, 1972, retrieved from http://ramsites.net/~whitemm2/304/pages/waysofseeing1.pdf