According to John Berger in Ways of Seeing, what does it mean for a work of art to embody a "way of seeing"? Ways of Seeing summarized

According to John Berger in Ways of Seeing, what does it mean for a work of art to embody a "way of seeing"?

Ways of Seeing summarized

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The underlying premise of Berger's concept of a "way of seeing" is the dynamic interrelationship between seeing the world--which comes before language about the world--describing the world, an action that creates an ideology that reverses on itself and effects how we see the world. In other words, we, as thinking humans, do not remain neutral about what we see and the way we describe it. Instead, we mold our thoughts by what we see, mold our thoughts even more by the words and conceptualizations we develop to describe what we see, then are paradoxically molded by what we say about what we see.

When this paradoxical dynamic interrelationship between seeing, saying, and conceiving of a concept is applied to looking at art, we bring tour paradoxical dynamic ideology with us to that which we look at. Thus art (or anything) that we see is seen in a way particular to our way of thinking that has been molded by what we originally see (and continue seeing) and describe and the words we originally use to describe (and continue to use) what we see. Nothing we see can be "neutral" after we create our inner ideologies around language and words. Everything moves dynamically as part of the interrelationship that is built into an ideology of seeing, or, what Berger calls a way of seeing.

There are other elements to his theory, such as cultural mystification, which you can explore in a critical essay and a summary.

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First, some background information.The BBC produced Ways of Seeing as a four-part series in 1972. John Berger and Mike Dibb produced it. Later this work became a book - seven chapters. Three of them are visual and the other four are essays.  

As you can imagine, this work concerns the topic of ways of seeing. Art, sociology, cultural studies, and history are commingled. Now to your question.

Berger argues that Western art embodies hidden ideologies in its visual images. In other words, art, even though it does not have words contains a cultural message. Berger, therefore, removes the veil from our eyes to show that art is a product of an elite way of seeing. Art embodies the power structures of those who have power and seeks to perpetuate them. From this perspective, we need to ask who commissioned the work of art, who is it meant to see it, and what are the hidden messages. 

As an example, the second essay deals with the art of female nudity. Berger argues that these nudes are not realistic. Rather they are the idealizations of men. In this sense, these works of art objectify women. The subject is obviously men, that is, the ones in power. So, we can say that in females nudes, we embody a distinct male way of seeing. 

Finally, I will attach an article that is an up-to-date usage of Berger's insights. 

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