Ways of Seeing: Important quotes with page – 5356 words

Ways of Seeing: Important quotes with page

1. “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. ” (Chapter 1, Page 7) This is the opening of the book. Here, Berger begins laying the groundwork that will give his arguments credibility and immediacy.

He asserts the primacy of the human visual experience. In Berger’s view, although written language is clearly important, words are not the means by which we have our first experiences of the world, and they are never fully adequate tools by which we name and understand the world. This is because before we acquire language and learn to use it to name our experiences, we see the world. No written language can compete with the primacy of the visual, and no written language can fully capture or depict the way that we visually experience the world.

Berger elucidates this preliminary assertion in order to eventually argue for the vital, critical importance of identifying and deconstructing the visual languages around us. For Berger, because of the primacy of the visual, images have an unrivaled power to form human consciousness and entrench ideology. Here, he invites us to recognize that power, so that we can see his subsequent arguments as valid and necessary.

2. “An image is a sight which has been recreated or reproduced. It is an appearance, or a set of appearances, which has been detached from the place and time in which it made its first appearance and preserved—for a few moments or a few centuries. Every image embodies a way of seeing.

Even a photograph. For photographs are not, as is often assumed, a mechanical record. Every time we look at a photograph, we are aware, however slightly, of the photographer selecting that sight from an infinity of other possible sights. This is true even in the most casual family snapshot. The photographer’s way of seeing is reflected in his choice of subject.

The painter’s way of seeing is reconstituted by the marks he makes on the canvas or paper. Yet, although every image embodies a way of seeing, our perception or appreciation of an image depends also upon our own way of seeing. ” (Chapter 1, Page 10) Here, Berger develops his conception of ways of seeing. His assertion here serves as a theoretical anchor for the work at large. Namely, he argues that every image, in its embodiment of a way of seeing, conforms to a set of norms and conventions that dictate its own production, perception, and interpretation.

These norms and conventions both derive from and entrench the culture, political climate, and material conditions surrounding the image. Berger here entreats the reader to move beyond a passive consumption of all images, and into a recognition that every image constructs both a visual and ideological field.

3. “Yet when an image is presented as a work of art, the way people look at is affected by a whole series of learnt assumptions about art. Assumptions concerning: Beauty Truth Genius Civilization Form Status Taste, etc. Many of these assumptions no longer accord with the world as it is.

(The world-as-it-is is more than pure objective fact, it includes consciousness. ) Out of true with the present, these assumptions obscure the past. They mystify rather than clarify. The past is never there waiting to be discovered, to be recognized for exactly what it is. History always constitutes the relation between a present and its past. The past is not for living in; it is a well of conclusions from which we draw in order to act. Cultural mystification of the past entails a double loss. Works of art are made unnecessarily remote. And the past offers us fewer conclusions to complete in action.” (Chapter 1, Page 11)

Here, Berger continues to develop his theory of ways of seeing. He asserts that the way that one looks at any work of art is never a question of pure mechanical reaction to stimulus. Instead, it is a complex process of forging understanding, interpretation, and value judgments that is rooted in a set of “assumptions” which derive from popularized and normative conceptions of art.

He then articulates that, while culture is impermanent and contextual, those assumptions, which derive from an earlier time period and culturally- entrenched notions about art, become out of line with the changing world. Therefore, the evaluation of art based on that set of assumptions obscures actual understanding of art.

4. “In the end, the art of the past is being mystified because a privileged minority is striving to invent a history which can retrospectively justify the role of the ruling classes, and such a justification can no longer make sense in modern times. And so, inevitably, it mystifies. ” (Chapter 1, Page 11) In this quote, Berger baldly names both the progenitors and beneficiaries of the cultural mystification of the art of the past: the few, privileged members of the ruling class.

He asserts that these members of the 1% purposefully normalize the use of obscurant assumptions to interpret and understand art in order to justify and legitimize their own role as members of the corrupt ruling class.

5. “Today we see the art of the past as nobody saw it before. We actually perceive it in a different way. This difference can be illustrated in terms of what was thought of as perspective. The convention of perspective, which is unique to European art and which was first established in the early Renaissance, centres everything on the eye of the beholder.

It is like a beam from a lighthouse—only instead of light traveling outwards, appearances travel in. The conventions called those appearances reality. Perspective makes the single eye the centre of the visible world. Everything converges on to the eye as to the vanishing point of infinity. The visible world is arranged for the spectator as the universe was once thought to be arranged for God. ” (Chapter 1, Page 16) This quote exemplifies Berger’s theoretical methodology. Firstly, he asserts that the manner in which we look at art, or our ways of seeing it, should never be taken for granted as any kind of natural or neutral process.

Instead, he asserts that the way in which we see art is itself a highly constructed, mediated set of conventions which arises out of particular cultural, historical, and political contexts. Here, he parses out the convention of perspective, which was a guiding principle of Renaissance art, as a specific convention that illustrates that assertion.

6. “The uniqueness of every painting was once part of the uniqueness of the place where it resided. Sometimes the painting was transportable. But it could never be seen in two places at the same time. When the camera reproduces a painting, it destroys the uniqueness of its image.

As a result its meaning changes. Or, more exactly, its meaning multiplies and fragments into many meanings. ” (Chapter 1, Page 19) Berger states that, due to the ease and ubiquity of photographic reproduction, the way in which we see and make sense of paintings has fundamentally changed. Through this assertion, he is essentially articulating that the conventions by which we access and understand painting have changed due to both technological and cultural change. Attending to this causal effect, and to the changing manner in which visual art is accessed and contextualized, is emblematic of Berger’s iconoclastic approach.

The judiciousness with which he parses out the changing modes of access and the subsequent new avenues for meanings that they create is antithetical to the ruling class’s favored, mystifying, and ossified approach to examining and interpreting art/painting.

7. “The bogus religiosity which now surrounds original works of art, and which is ultimately dependent upon their market value, has become the substitute for what paintings lost when the camera made them reproducible. Its function is nostalgic. It is the final empty claim for the continuing values of an oligarchic, undemocratic culture.

If the image is no longer unique and exclusive, the art object, the thing, must be made mysteriously so. ” (Chapter 1, Page 23) Here, Berger does not mince words in his indictment of what he sees as the corrupt machinations of the ruling class. In his estimation, the ruling class has conjured a fraudulent aura of religiosity, with which they gird original works of art. They have done so in order to contravene and compensate for both the increased access to works of art, and the production of new meanings, which photography ushered in.

Photography deeply damaged the elite, rarefied status of the original work of art through its ability to cheaply and easily reproduce and distribute duplicated images of paintings. In so doing, it endangered the very status of the ruling class as the sole possessors and arbiters of art. In order to reclaim and hold onto the power that they wielded prior to the development of photography, they deepened the fetishization of the original work of art, producing the cultural narrative that original works of art were imbued with a pseudo-religious aura that reproductions could never emanate.

Berger incisively points out here that that aura is far from being metaphysical: ultimately, it derives from the material market value of any given painting. He also boldly asserts that this ruling-class machination is their desperate attempt to preserve a society in which their own interests, solely, are protected, and their pronounced stakes in the continued production of inequality remain untouched.

8. “If the new language of images were used differently, it would, through its use, confer a new kind of power. Within it we could begin to define our experiences more precisely in areas where words are inadequate. (Seeing comes before words. ) Not only personal experience, but also the essential historical experience of our relation to the past: that is to say the experience of seeking to give meaning to our lives, of trying to understand the history of which we can become the active agents. ” (Chapter 1, Page 33)

Here, towards the end of Chapter One, Berger repeats his opening proposition: “seeing comes before words. ” He does so after he has mounted a strong critique of the ruling class, and illustrated that class’s vested interest in both mystifying art discourse at large and fraudulently fetishizing original works of art.

Consequently, his opening salvo takes on added gravity. If the masses can wrest the power to dictate the norms and conventions which formulate peoples’ fundamental psychological, cultural, and economic relationship to art, they can begin to harvest the primacy of the visual to create new ways of seeing which do not duplicate and enshrine the outdated and oppressive status of the ruling class. Instead, they could form ways of seeing which accurately and vitally correspond to both their own personal experiences, and to a truer, fully-contextualized experience of their historical relation to the past.

9. “One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only the most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed is female. Thus she turns herself into an object—and most particularly an object of vision: a sight. ” (Chapter 3, Page 47) In this quote, Berger concisely illustrates the particular way of seeing that the nude, as a visual formulation bound by a distinct set of conventions, both responds to and instantiates sexist ideology.

Within the conventions of the nude, the naked female form is consummately objectified in order to appeal to the male gaze. The conventions of the nude exist in this way because of the patriarchal culture from which the genre originates. Also, however, these conventions move from works of visual art and into the culture. Because they so strongly and almost subliminally sanction the objectification of women, women internalize their logics, and therefore objectify themselves.

10. “To be naked is to be without disguise. To be on display is to have the surface of one’s own skin, the hairs of one’s own body, turned into a disguise which, in that situation, can never be discarded. The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress. ” (Chapter 3, Page 54) In this quote, Berger strongly and clearly distinguishes the nude, as a mediated visual form that follows its own set of rules and conventions, as an entirely distinct entity from the state of being naked. Because the nude fetishizes and objectifies the female body, it is a genre that is inexorably filtered through sexist ideology.

The genre therefore does not produce images of  natural’ nakedness: it is pure artifice. Because of this fact, nudity is, itself, a form of dress: it masks and disguises the female body under a coat of fetishizing and objectifying ideological and visual filters.

11. “In the average European oil painting of the nude the principal protagonist is never painted. He is the spectator in front of the picture and he is presumed to be a man. Everything is addressed to him. Everything must appear to be the result of his being there. It is for him that the figures have assumed their nudity.

But he, by definition, is a stranger—with his clothes still on. ” (Chapter 3, Page 54) Here, Berger cogently names the power relation that the genre of the nude entrenches. Even though the nude female is the figure being depicted, she is wholly objectified, and is therefore in no way the image’s protagonist. Instead, the protagonist is the unpictured and presumably fully-clothed man. He is the figure for whom the objectified naked female body exists. Through its visual codes, the nude therefore legitimizes and normalizes the oppression and dehumanization of women while it glorifies and flatters men.

12. “Today the attitudes and values which informed [the] tradition [of the nude in academic painting] are expressed through other more widely diffused media—advertising, journalism, television. But the essential way of seeing women, the essential use to which their images are put, has not changed. Women are depicted in a quite different way from men—not because the feminine is different from the masculine—but because the ideal’ spectator is always assumed to be male and the image of the woman is designed to flatter him. ” (Chapter 3, Page 64)

Here, Berger reiterates the power dynamic instantiated by the nude, but also adds a crucial assertion which develops one of the text’s central messages. By pointing out that the attitudes and values which contributed to the historical tradition of the nude have migrated to contemporary forms of visual media, he illustrates the manner in which ways of seeing function. While they are deeply tied to the genres from which they originate, their ideological nature, and their connections to the larger society, render them translatable and transferrable.

That is why the conventions of the nude oil painting can travel to other forms of media, with their power and messaging intact.

13. “Oil paintings often depict things. Things which in reality are buyable. To have a thing painted and put on a canvas is not unlike buying it and putting it in your house. If you buy a painting you buy also the look of the thing it represents. This analogy between possessing and the way of seeing which is incorporated in oil painting is a factor usually ignored by art experts and historians.” (Chapter 5, Page 83)

This quote, from an early section of Chapter Five, demonstrates Berger’s sustained and incisive focus on ways of seeing, and his fidelity to his theoretical methodology. Having just completed a nuanced interrogation of the modes and ideological underpinnings of the nude, he turns his literal and conceptual gaze to the oil painting. He clearly asserts that the norms and conventions of the oil painting were deeply informed by the capitalist practice of propertizing, monetizing, and acquiring objects.

He also continues his subversive streak, pointing out the fact that this aspect of oil painting, which is for him fundamental, is lamentably overlooked by authors of mainstream academic art discourse.

14. “Works of art in earlier traditions celebrated wealth. But wealth was then a symbol of a fixed social or divine order. Oil painting celebrated a new kind of wealth—which was dynamic and which found its only sanction in the supreme buying power of money. Thus painting itself had to be able to demonstrate the desirability of what money could buy.

And the visual desirability of what can be bought lies in its tangibility, in how it will reward the touch, the hand, of the owner. ” (Chapter 5, Page 90) Here, Berger attends to both the visual and the cultural/historical intricacies of oil painting as a genre and a way of seeing. He notes that, while the celebration of wealth was hardly an unprecedented phenomenon, that celebrated wealth was understood in distinct terms. It was understood as a result of an immovably stratified social or religious structure.

A newly- budding global capitalism, however, ushered in a new historical era—in which the only force dictating who could amass wealth was no longer an entrenched religious or social system, but the free market. Oil painting, therefore, was tasked with visually depicting the desirability of the commodity fetish. It did so by rendering all propertized and commodified objects in as much realistic, lush visual detail as possible. According to Berger, the explosion of capitalism, therefore, was instrumental in producing the visual language of oil painting.

15. “[The Ambassadors] is painted with great skill to create the illusion in the spectator that he is looking at real objects and materials. We pointed out in the first essay that the sense of touch was like a restricted, static sense of sight. Every square inch of the surface of this painting, whilst remaining purely visual, appeals to, importunes the sense of touch. The eye moves from fur to silk to metal to wood to velvet to marble to paper to felt, and each time what the eye perceives is already translated, within the painting itself, into the language of tactile sensation.

The two men have a certain presence and the there are many objects which symbolize ideas, but it is the materials, the stuff, by which the men are surrounded and clothed which dominate the painting. ” (Chapter 5, Page 90) Here, Berger continues with the conceit of the previous quote, emphasizing his point that the realistic rendering of fetishized objects was the animating impetus of the development of oil painting as a visual language.

This primary visual and ideological concern was so strong that the ambassadors, the ostensible subjects of the Holbein painting to which he dedicates a sustained case study in this chapter, are, in reality, secondary to the painting’s depiction of an array of objects.

16. “The gaze of the ambassadors is both aloof and wary. They expect no reciprocity. They wish the image of their presence to impress others with their vigilance and their distance. The presence of kings and emperors had once impressed in a similar way, but their images had been comparatively impersonal.

What is new and disconcerting here is the individualized presence which needs to suggest distance. Individualism finally posits equality. Yet equality must be made inconceivable. ” (Chapter 5, Page 97) In this quote, Berger attends to the ideological messaging attendant to Holbein’s depiction of the ambassadors. He does so in order to illustrate an additional element of oil painting’s visual language. While the distant and on- guard expression of the ambassadors is, in itself, preceded by a tradition of depicting kings and emperors, oil painting was ostensibly inflected by humanist values which complicate the two men’s remoteness.

While humanism champions the individual, and thereby posits equality between all men, the mandates of capitalism and its production of a ruling class foreclose the possibility of true equality. Therefore, while the visual language of oil painting depicts each ambassador in highly individualized terms, it actively contravenes the notion of equality by simultaneously depicting them as wary, inaccessible overseers with whom the unwashed masses will never be invited to identify. Through this insight, Berger illustrates the hypocrisy and inconsistency of the ruling class, and therefore indicts the underlying capitalist ideology of oil painting.

17. “We are accused of being obsessed by property. The truth is the other way round. It is the society and culture in question which is so obsessed. Yet to an obsessive his obsession always seems to be of the nature of things and so is not recognized for what it is. The relation between property and art in European culture appears natural to that culture, and consequently if somebody demonstrates the extent of the property interest in a given cultural field, it is said to be a demonstration of his obsession.

And this allows the Cultural Establishment to project for a little longer its false rationalized image of itself. ” (Chapter 5, Page 109) In this quote, Berger recites a counterargument to his own in order to directly refute it. He successfully turns a critique against him on its head. In his view, his sustained focus on the issue of property, and its formative influence on the genre and conventions of oil painting, is a result of a discerning investigation of capitalism.

While his critics accuse him of being obsessed with property, he asserts that they are guilty of refusing to account for the ideological and cultural power that capitalism exerted on the medium of oil painting. What’s more, he believes that their refusal is not simply the result of ignorance. Instead, it is borne out of a desire to preserve both the ruling class’s exalted station within the current cultural order, and their outdated, dishonest art discourse. This quote, therefore, exemplifies Berger’s iconoclastic and subversive edge.

18. “We are not so accustomed to being addressed by these images that we scarcely notice their total impact. A person may notice a particular image or piece of information because it corresponds to some particular interest he has. But we accept the total system of publicity images as we accept an element of the climate. For example, the fact that these images belong to the moment but speak to the future produces a strange effect which has become so familiar that we scarcely notice it. ” (Chapter 7, Page 130)

In this quote, Berger points out a central concern of his theory. He states that we have become so inured to the ubiquity of advertisement that we fail to attend to the subtleties of its visual language. Instead, we allow ourselves to be conditioned and indoctrinated by it. This is an essential and repeated element of the text. In his previous investigations of both the nude and oil painting, and, now, the advertisement, Berger contends that the ideological and visual languages of each medium have been obscured and mystified.

These ideological and visual languages have therefore posited themselves as rootless, transcendent, and natural. Berger’s goal, however, is to relentlessly uproot the normalized and obscured foundations of these visual languages in order to free people from their thrall. Specifically, in this quote, he is implicitly issuing a call to arms. He is entreating his readers to attend to the intricate, powerful visual and ideological systems of advertising, so that they can move beyond being passively-indoctrinated subjects.

19. “It is true that in publicity one brand of manufacture, one firm competes with another; but it is also true that every publicity image confirms and enhances every other. Publicity is not merely an assembly of competing messages: it is a language in itself, which is always being used to make the same general proposal. Within publicity, choices are offered between this cream and that cream, that car and this car, but publicity as a system only makes a single proposal. It proposes to each of us that we transform ourselves, or our lives, by buying something more.

This more, it proposes, will make us in some way richer—even though we will be poorer by having spent our money. ” (Chapter 7, Page 131) In this penetrating quote, Berger breaks through an illusion that capitalism produces. Through the existence of multiple competing companies, capitalism creates the illusion of both consumer choice and corporate autonomy for individual businesses. However, in Berger’s perspective, this illusion obscures the ultimate reality: that each advertisement is, fundamentally, an advertisement for capitalism itself. This point is central to the visual language of advertising.

It is a way of seeing which legitimizes and normalizes the exploitative existence of capitalism through subliminal ideological messaging.

20. “Oil painting, before it was anything else, was a celebration of private property. As an art-form it derived from the principle that you are what you have. It is a mistake to think of publicity supplanting the visual art of post- Renaissance Europe; it is the last moribund form of that art. Publicity is, in essence, nostalgic. It has to sell the past to the future. It cannot itself supply the standards of its own claims.

And so all its references to quality are bound to be retrospective and traditional. It would lack both confidence and credibility if it is used in as strictly contemporary language. ” (Chapter 7, Page 139) Here, Berger again argues for the transferability and versatility of ideological/visual ways of seeing. In a sense, this quote thereby retroactively validates Chapter Five’s content. Berger’s sustained, exacting focus on oil painting is justified, because contemporary advertising relies on the underlying ideology of oil painting in order to successfully indoctrinate the populace.

The reader, therefore, understands why Berger has spent so much time and effort mounting an exhaustive analysis of oil painting’s methodology. Too, this quote exemplifies Berger’s previous assertion that history is not a hermetically-sealed, self-contained truth, waiting to be discovered. Instead, he posits that our conception of history is always rooted in our experience of the present. This quote directly illustrates and validates that very proposition.

21. “The oil painting showed what its owner was already enjoying among his possessions and his way of life. It consolidated his own sense of his own value. It enhanced his view of himself as he already was. It began with facts, the facts of his life. The paintings embellished the interior in which he actually lived. The purpose of publicity is to make the spectator marginally dissatisfied with his present way of life. Not with the way of life of society, but with his own within it. It suggests that if he buys what it is offering, his life will become better. It offers him an improved alternative to what he is. ”(Chapter 7, Page 142)

While the previous quote articulates a bridging ideology that joins oil painting and advertising, this one recites a point of divergence between the two genres. Oil painting was a medium that was designed to appeal to and flatter the ruling class. Therefore, it glorified and exalted what the class had the power to own, and thereby memorialized that class’s stably-vaunted status. Advertising, however, is designed to appeal to the working class—those that the ruling class exploits and dominates.

Therefore, it must both appeal to and create a sense of lack in the members of the ruling class. Although the ideological and economic system that provides the context for both oil painting and advertising remains, consistently, capitalism, the visual codes of advertising must be tinkered with in order to produce that distinct appeal.

22. “Glamour cannot exist without personal social envy being a common and widespread emotion. The industrial society which has moved towards democracy and then stopped half way is the ideal society for generating such an emotion.

The pursuit of individual happiness has been acknowledged as a universal right. Yet the existing social conditions make the individual feel powerless. He lives in the contradiction between what he is and what he would like to be. Either he then becomes fully conscious of the contradiction and its causes, and so joins the political struggle for a full democracy which, entails, amongst other things, the overthrow of capitalism; or else he lives, continually subject to an envy which, compounded with his sense of powerlessness, dissolves into recurrent day-dreams. ” (Chapter 7, Page 148)

Here, Berger connects his conception of glamour to a material political analysis. While previous passages focused on the visual formulation of envy, this passage represents a somewhat rare moment for Berger: one in which he unflinchingly indicts contemporary Western society and its governance. Most of this text is spent articulating the visual codes of various genres of images, with veiled, somewhat cryptic, or generalized criticisms of the ruling class’ and capitalism. Here, however, Berger boldly asserts an unequivocal criticism of Western society’s democracy.

He states that advertising skillfully exploits the failures of democracy in its subliminal messaging, carving out the space for its own necessity while simultaneously misdirecting the populace from pursuing real political or social change.

23. “Publicity adds up to a kind of philosophical system. It explains everything in its own terms. It interprets the world. The entire world becomes a setting for the fulfillment of publicity’s promise of the good life.

The world smiles at us. It offers itself to us. And because everywhere is imagined as offering itself to us, everywhere is more or less the same. ” (Chapter 7, Pages 149-150) This quote articulates a crucial element of the way of seeing that advertising constructs. Berger here asserts that advertising creates its own, enclosed world of meaning. In an almost identical manner to the one in which oil painting reduced the entirety of the world and the human being’s possible experiences of it to the idea of property and ownership, the advertisement reduces the world to that which can possibly be bought. It forecloses all imagination of satisfaction and fulfillment beyond the consumerist act.

24. “The fact that publicity is eventless would be immediately obvious if it did not use a language which makes of tangibility an event in itself. Everything publicity shows is there awaiting acquisition. The act of acquiring has taken the place of all other actions, the sense of having has obliterated all other senses. ” (Chapter 7, Page 153) Here, Berger again demonstrates that the logics of oil painting have reached their apotheosis in the medium of the advertisement. As he states in an earlier passage, color photography perfected oil painting’s obsession with rendering objects in extreme, realistic detail.

The ability of photography to appeal to the sense of touch through its convincing, detailed replication of the likeness of objects is exploited by the language of advertising in the same manner that the painter’s ability to render objects was exploited by the genre of oil painting. In both cases, the ability to create realistic images of objects is used in order to normalize and enshrine the central philosophy of capitalism: that the act of object/commodity acquisition is the only and ultimate human aim.

25. “Publicity exerts an enormous influence and is a political phenomenon of great importance. But its offer is as narrow as its references are wide. It recognizes nothing except the power to acquire. All other human faculties or needs are made subsidiary to this power. All hopes are gathered together, made homogenous, simplified, so that they become the intense yet vague, magical yet repeatable promise offered in every purchase.

No other kind of hope or satisfaction or pleasure can any longer be envisaged within the culture of capitalism. ” (Chapter 7, Page 153) Here, again, Berger laments the manner in which the visual language of capitalism reduces the human character, condescends to human capabilities, and simultaneously oversimplifies and redirects human desire. By creating psychological weakness and then exploiting it, the visual language of advertisements (very successfully) asks human beings to buy into its illusions.

Ultimately, the language of advertising does not sell products: it sells the philosophy and culture of capitalism, within which nothing is desirable nor even imaginable but the use of purchasing power to try to find a fulfillment which is constantly deferred. The visual language of capitalism creates a closed-circuit system, which perpetuates and justifies its own existence.

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