Ways of Seeing is a four-part BBC documentary by writer John Berger and producer Mike Dibb. It was broadcast in 1972 and was later adapted into a book of the same name. Says Wikipedia “The series was intended as a response to Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation series, which represents a more traditionalist view of the Western artistic and cultural canon, and the series and book criticize traditional Western cultural aesthetics by raising questions about hidden ideologies in visual images.”
An artist or anyone involved in the creative arts would do well to watch this series. In part 1, Berger talks about the consequences of the reproduction of art. Being able to view art in those days in a postcard or as a print changed the meaning of the picture. Where you viewed the picture became every bit as important as what the picture was about. In part 2, Berger speaks about the nude and how women have been depicted in Western painting – his views are progressive and his discussion with several women speakers adds value to his arguments. Everything has changed, what with the #metoo movement, and yet nothing really has even today as the problems that riled women in the 1970s continue to raise their heads today. In part 3, Berger discusses how oil painting flourished because it represented wealth and luxury while in truth this image was the direct outcome of colonization and exploitation. In part 4, Berger examines what he calls publicity images or advertisements and draws parallels between oil paintings and magazine pictures. His observations are relevant in the mania of social media excess we have today. Advertisements are aspirational; they promise you a dream and in a democracy where envy is the norm, the dream is more valuable than the reality. He speaks of the inadequacy of the magazine format- the stories of refugees on a page are followed by advertisements of products on the next. Even now, there are so many horrendous fissures as we scroll down social media pages! The series may seem a little outmoded today but the value of Berger’s content remains hard to match in this age of excess.