In the end of 1950’s the Pop Culture had just sprung off the new, hip, and trendy for of art; free trade was the new “it” and consumption was higher than ever (Trentmann). Among this new era of what is claimed to be the era of freedom, there was a man named John Berger who sat in front of a naked man, drawing frantically on a piece of paper that later would become/will become (jag vet inte vad du tycker ar bast? ) the groundwork of his essay “Drawing. As Berger, writing his essay from the perspective of an authentic artist, starts to examine the process of drawing from beginning to end, his work in Selected Essays will convey an author with divergent voices that will help us relate to the very abstract and complex ideas Berger expresses around the nature of art and the artist: we are travelling back in time with Berger to discover that due to the change in the social structure of society, art is not longer regarded for its beauty, but for it consumerist value. (Lita lang mening kanske?
And just as Berger infers that “for the artist drawing is discovery,” (10) the view of art will be uncovered for his readers. Nevertheless, an unavoidable confusion arises at while immersing oneself in Berger’s world: first and foremost the out-of-context experience one might perceive, and secondly, the lack of fully committing to the view of the world as merely looking at art. However, an unavoidable attraction to Berger’s work pulls his readers to the essence of his ideas, at it is among all these tangents, metaphors and strong opinions we find the true reward in Berger’s work: the historical evolution of art.
When Berger in “Drawing,” writes about artwork of an object by combining an abstract and physical illustrations: he “dissects” the object “in his minds eye,” he claims that he as a drawer “felt [the objects body part] physically—as, in a sense, [Berger’s] nervous system inhabited [the objects] body” (13). This alienating experience is one that is common throughout his essays, but just as Berger assert in “Drawing,” we will need to exit our own mind, seeing the world from his time to perceive the world as a “record of one’s discovery” (10. The metaphysical qualities of Berger’s work is a repeating pattern throughout Berger’s essays; he is constantly digging deeper and deeper in art related subjects, subtly expressing his opinions of capitalism and property. In “Drawings by Watteau,” Berger is in contrast to “Drawings” no longer the artist, but the art-critic; his narration alters into that of an expert on paintings by Watteau. By carefully analyzing and (ta bort “and”) the art of an artist, Berger claims that it is easy to understand the personality of the artist.
In Watteau’s case, the contrasts in his paintings “give us a clue to Watteau’s temperament and underlying theme of his art” (191). And similarly, Berger uncovers his own personality in his essay about Watteau. It is merely the selection carefully chosen works of words, like “courtiers,” “guillotines will be fallen,” and “mortality,” that put together with a discreet tone of judgment towards Aristocrats, that will hint towards his enthusiasm of the French Revolution, and the end of monarchy in France: Berger subtly suggests using the art of Watteau, “that the world of aristocratic elegance” was doomed (191).
Nonetheless, as Berger happily speaks of the ill-fated future of art, there is a strong sense of passioj (vad ar passioj? Du menar val passion? ) underlying in his work. Why else would he spend an entire book, writing about the properties of art, and the way it has altered during years of industrialization? In “Steps Toward a Small Theory of the Visible,” Berger clearly absorbs himself in the world of art, as he continues to criticize the way we are apprehending art now, in comparison to how it used to be seen.
Berger concern transmits to his reader, as he gives us the notion of our perception of art as disrupted by the technological innovations and capitalist minds that have spread in our society. Because “today images abound everywhere,” Berger firmly insists that “technological appearances has made it easy to separate the apparent from the existent” (106). But what is this phenomenon of apparency/ apparent Berger is talking about, what is the difference between the two terms?
What Berger implies is that we are today surrounded with pictures, paintings and other form of art, which causes us to become “immune” and not see the true beauty in the object. (Jag satter en punkt har istallet for ett 😉 Rather then seeing with eyes sensitive to nature and exquisiteness, we look through the eyes of capitalism – eyes that rather see money than beauty. Berger is showing his readers his attitude (a moderately socialist one) by claiming that “many collectors – and museums—buy names rather than works” in order to feed our appetite for this artificial beauty and hunt for recognition (107).
He is outright blaming capitalism for causing us to lose touch with the real nature of art and world containing the origin of all art. Nevertheless/nontheless/however (istallet for “but” kanske? ) does Berger want us to take a step back and abandon the technological improvements we experience? No, rather he suggests another estranging solution, meaning that we ought to embrace the world around us in, putting our souls into the nature and “collaborate” with the object (108).
Leaving behind himself the assigned role as a critic, Berger further continues his personal stance in the essay “Art and Property Now,” and he does it my (“by” ska det vara va? ) examining the past: the historical change that has occurred to the nature of art. Berger is no longer hiding behind Watteau’s painting and the voice of a critic, instead he boldly blames the “art collectors” and the “European ruling class” for using art as property when trying to confirm their prominent culture they derive from and use it as a for their own personal confirmation as being “important” to the future cultural heritage.
Though “movements of cultural philanthropy” — “cultural facilities concerned with arts and open to the public” — Berger asserts that “the privileged are not in a position to teach or give to the underprivileged” (103). But (far man borja en mening med “but”? Ska du typ inte ta “however” eller nagot istallet? ) why is Berger taking on this view? To him, all “they,” as he refers to the “ruling class,” (???
Kolla igenom borjan pa denna meningen) are after is money and honor, and the desperate greed has led these private galleries dealers to have “faces like silk purses” (104), only wanting to earn more and more money fueling a world ruled by consumerism and capitalism. Berger infers that living in a society that is driven by capitalism, it is unavoidable to have a separation between groups: us and them, the underprivileged and the privileged. A result of this will be that the underprivileged will try to make more money by satisfying the privileged that has got the influence over the world of art.
Furthermore, Berger asserts that this phenomenon has led to an industrialization of art: “work[s] of art can now be produced industrially and need have no scarcity value,” (106) thus, as he suggests in “Steps Towards a Small Theory of the Visible:” “When a painting is lifeless it is the result of the painter not having the nerve to get close enough for a collaboration to start. He stays at a copying distance. Or, as in mannerist periods like today, he stays at an art-historical distance, playing stylistic tricks which the model knows nothing about” (107).
According to Berger the result of this in European societies is that “the unique work of art is doomed,” and because of the constant desire for more and more property, hence the “sick appetite” of art, the actual pleasure of art is gone (107). Although it may appear odd in Berger’s condemnation of fine art, he takes on yet another character: the character of an apologist for photography. In his essay “Understanding a Photograph,” Berger’s tone, although not entirely optimistic, turn from problem seeking to suggest solutions.
Suddenly we are no longer destined to loose art to industrialization, instead Berger proposes that “photography (whatever kind of activity it may be) is going to outlive painting and sculpture as we have thought of them since the Renaissance” (215). He writes about the progression of drawing in his essay “Drawing,” as it seems though he “looked at the model to check a form” but “now [he] looks at it in a different way” (14). We have entered into Berger’s world of art history, and we are about to discover yet something new about it.
As Berger wrote in “Art and Property Now,” he finds himself in a new era when art no longer has an exclusive value, and likewise, in “Understanding a Photograph,” we realize that Berger believes that paintings and sculptures are preserved because of their value as property. Since they are becoming less and less rare, more and more pieces of art will reduce their physical value, thus the truly unique paintings they will die among a variety of copies or soulless art – pieces created with the sheer purpose of filling human acquisitiveness.
However, Berger turns into a candid visionary and he manage to convinces us that “photography has little or no value, because they have no rarity value,” which will means that photography will survive in a world obsessed with materialism. And as Berger speaks of photographs and their properties, he furthermore emphasizes the choice that is made when recording a moment in time. As he accentuates that photo is a declaration that “I have decided that seeing this is worth recording,” as well as the natural implication “What it shows invokes what is not shown,” Berger’s philosophical mindset seems to extend beyond the frames of images.
The choices Berger refers to are choices we make for ourselves and result in who we will become. The choices we reject define us in a seemingly important manner, and just like with a photograph, we inhabit the uttermost power in “constructing a total view of [our own] reality” (218). Berger, in an essay filled with abstractions and intricate expressions of photography, still manages to draw a tangential connection from his philosophical ideas and relate it back to the concept of photography as means of our understanding of the captured moment in time.
What we will discover is seeing the world with Berger’s eyes, preserving and valuating a moment in time because of the emotional importance it inhibits, not the physical, artificial significant it has to the ones willing to pay for it. Nevertheless, not even in “Understanding a Photograph,” will Berger leave his political conviction, as he ends by stating “the necessity of our understanding a weapon which we can use and which can be used against us,” depends on the “crucial role of photography in ideological struggle” (218).
In the essay “A Photograph of Agony,” Berger continues to discuss our political presence in society. However, he is no longer the expert in the field, but a fellow human analyzing the political impacts and cause to photography showing agony and suffering far from the reality of a person living in an industrial society. Berger sets the scene for his readers — a day like any other for the average man opening up the newspaper in the morning — his concerns align towards our responses to the increasingly violent and brutal “war photographs” (279) in the morning paper.
In this moment of “discontinuity,” an event that is so far from our own reality, Berger nearly blames the viewers for their lack of response to the pictures. “Either he shrugs off this sense of inadequacy as being far too familiar,” Berger writes, “or else he thinks of performing a kind of penance – of which the purest example would be to make contributions to ‘Oxfam’ or to ‘UNICEF” (218). Berger wants us showing more integrity, more political freedom and the chance to influence “conduct[ion] of wars waged in our names. But instead, what photographs really shows is citizens that lack of power to effect authorities. Unlike the alienating experience we see in “Drawings” — Berger entering the body of the object — manages to make this moment applicable to non-artist by recounting events that are easy to relate to; events that even happen without us paying any further attention to it in our everyday lives, yet he implants the notion of art as an overarching component in the world.