In this article, in his seeing john Berger deconstructs the way of seeing and attends to perspective and conventions for visual dialogue based on the peoples’ collective and personal belief constructs. “The way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe” (Berger, Pg. 8). He records the history of art and the way in which people look at art which he specifies is affected by a chain of learnt assumptions about “Beauty, Truth, Genius, Civilization, Form Status, Tastes, etc” Pg. 11. He deals with geometric perspective, the setting of a vanishing point in paintings, and the way, in which man was induced to believe, he was the center of the uniqueness in the world as the spectator. His discussion of perspective and man’s position as a sole viewer with universal seeing power informs his discussion of the inherent gender divisions initiated in early works of art. Not only was the viewer’s perspective god-like and all knowing, but it was overwhelmingly male. More specifically he demonstrates this point in reference to European art.
In the form of art of European the spectator-owners and painters were always men and those treated as objects, usually women. This unequal relationship is so deeply embedded in culture that it still structures the consciousness of many women. “They do to themselves what men do to them. They survey, like men, their own femininity” Pg. 63 this is the most observable legacy that Berger points out in the article and it shades his entire explanation of the evolution of art viewing and informs the whole of his arguments that relate to ways of seeing. “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” Pg. 16
Berger goes on with his transitions and discussions into the evolution of public images. In the article he explains various fundamentals in the first half, through his dissection of the genre-oil painting, to the environment saturated with images of both modern and post modern really interesting. His discussions and transitions go on into the evolution of various public images. He specifies that “History always constitutes the relation between the present and its past”. Pg. 11the part on references and publicity images to the romantic and ancient forms helps one to better understand his ideas. A look at the past through the prism of the present makes it easy for one to make an interpretation of his ideas about how one view the art and the nature of the spectatorship. From Mystification, “Mystification has little to do with the vocabulary used. Mystification is the process of explaining away what might be evident” Pg 16
Through art and the history of perspective, “Today we see the art of the past as nobody saw it before. We actually perceive it in a different way” Pg. 16. The perception of this is different, but the art of the past is always present, either as quoted or as imagined earlier. Images for publicity mostly use paintings or sculptures to lend authority or allure to their own message. Oil paintings that have been framed hang in shop windows as a part and parcel of their display. Any work of art quoted by publicity serves two purposes. “Art is a sign of affluence; it belongs to the good life; it is part of the furnishing, which the world gives to the rich and beautiful” Pg. 135
From in depth discussions of perspective to the juxtaposition of the past with the present in the use of publicity images, Berger’s ideas about the social and aesthetic assumptions that inform the way we see are fundamental to understanding our image saturated environment and media consumed lifestyle. From art history and the basics about the changing nature of perspective to spectator viewing and notions of intimacy revealed in European nudes and modern publicity images, promoting lifestyle and brand identities, Ways of Seeing is complete in its dissection of the complexities of our visual culture and comprehensive in its exploration of our reality.
Berger has played a role in modern female thinking by exploring depictions of women in classical painting and in advertising. He takes on the subject so straightforwardly, taking into question the entire of the women’s classical images. Berger’s conclusion, and that of his interviewees, is that the nude women’s paintings’ hanging in the best European museums is nothing more than pornography. The women in those paintings are nothing but objects that can be consumed or violated, and nothing more. He so forcefully speaks against this part of the western canon. However, Berger is not without faults. His appeal of oil paintings portrays them as the highest of visual forms. Maybe, but likely not. In history, photography is somewhat fuzzy, but according to Berger photography as a work of art was finding its way into the major galleries and museums in the world. Photography is now in the same class with other visual forms of art as about an equal. Berger’s reliance on his own arguments and opinions, too, brings problems. In almost half of his arguments, he hasn’t had a single female critic discussing the subject. Berger proficiently weaves the visual with discussions on the subject of the visual in clear-cut and jargon less language. He clearly presents his views making cautious observations about the visual without looking into art school discussion-style solipsism, ambiguity, tautology, or prevarication.
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John Berger writes: “The Judgment of Paris was another theme with the same in written idea of a man or men looking at naked women. But a further element is now added- the element of judgment. Paris awards the apple to the woman he finds most beautiful. Thus Beauty becomes competitive. (Today The Judgment of Paris has become the Beauty Contest.) Those who are not judged beautiful are not beautiful. Those who are beautiful get the prize. The prize is to be owned by a judge – that is to say to be available for him” The force of Berger’s argument is that the artistic nude is just like the soft porn nude that has been put in place to satisfy male voyeurism and their desire for possession. His argument is that all except a few of the hundreds of thousands of nudes in the paintings in Europe were intended to appeal to “sexuality of the man looking at the picture”(46). Berger states that the sexuality of a woman “needs to be minimized so that the spectator may feel that he has the monopoly of such passion.
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Women are there to feed an appetite, not to have any of their own”. In literary form, his writing reflects, his argument about hypocrisy in painting; “You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, you put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting Vanity, thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure”. His analysis can be summed up into a straight forward proclamation “Men act and women appear” (47). His assertion is that while men look at women, women look at themselves as they are being looked at and therefore double up as spectators who are conscious of their own representation and how it looks in male eyes (46).
Spectatorship is what is often used as a tool of pardoning the male gaze. As Berger put it, “You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, you put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting Vanity, thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure” (51). He says that a woman looking at herself is seen as a narcissist while a man who looks at anything he likes will be called an art connoisseur. “But does a woman become a nude when she looks at herself? Berger asserts that only others can turn someone into a nude” (54). The paradox of the spectator/image condition is highlighted. According to him to be naked is to be oneself while nudity is to be “seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself” (54). Nudity means the stripping of true self and projection of various points of view of other people onto another body. In real meaning, nakedness is objectification.
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This is taken a step further when Berger points out that the fan owner of a painting becomes the spectator owner of a representation of a woman, therefore the spectator is represented as male and the woman image, as a nude, is intended to flatter the man (64). Male spectatorship is applied in two ways: the exchange between Gerty and Bloom and the mention to the early 20th century mutoscope. In Making a Spectacle of Herself: Gerty MacDowell Through the Mutoscope, Katherine Mullin Joyce’s suggestive and arousal Gerty are compared to modest and sexually pure Flint of Cummins. While she is aware of her beauty and her abilities to provoke the attention of a man, Flint is totally unconscious of her beauty. This device is used most of the times to pass on a message to young ones (142). The prude flint and modest serves as the role model for youthful Irish women. Mullin states that her reward for her diffidence is her ultimate marriage to her childhood darling (142). On the other hand, the sexually open and provoking Gerty is left in the end not married.
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Berger’s discussions of nakedness are taken further when he asserts that in western Christian art, nakedness of male is a symbol of a struggle to be more like Christ while that of female symbolizes lust and sin (81).the male nudity is therefore closer to perfection than that of female. The discussions by Miles about Adam and Eve are based on this argument, emphasizing that Eve’s believed guilt in the fall of man and her creation from the body of Adam have been conventionally treated as the reasons of Eve’s weakness to Adam (86-87). If Eve is a representation of every woman, her imperfections speak to the common limitation of women and their shared sinfulness.
Based on Berger’s, Miles views the treatment of all women by Christianity as potential witches and the credence of their expected vulnerability to evil as another unfairness paid to the depiction of women. There is therefore a great reason for the need of a new form of feminist art (137).
Representation of women according to Berger has fallen victim to two systems:
1) The use of their bodies to provoke the male gaze and the ultimate objectification of women.
2) The aversive and negative treatment in western Christianity (Dyer, 1997. pg 63).
The two systems are major factors that have contributed to the agenda of a “by men for men” (Dyer, 1997. pg 63) approach used in art, literature, and on screens – major types used in gender depiction. When these are examined, the hidden agenda in representation is exposed and it sparks one of the most castigatory actions to sexual category politics: women discontinue watching the men in suits and start on their own representation.
In the Judgment of Paris, a story presumably originated by men, starts by displaying the vanity of female: a dispute of three goddesses over their individual beauty, triggers the meeting with Paris, the inducement and the consequences. Then their characters are with vindictiveness and conceit fleshed out, so there is no way that a safe decision can be made by Paris, let alone one that is just. The goddesses are blamed for all of it. Yet this story gives possibilities for the artist (who is not apprehensive with blame) to scrutinize the relationships between power and sexuality. Supposedly, as Berger suggests, Paris and other male viewers have the authority of judgment over the female beauty, but inside the world of the story, the real authority is with the goddesses.
Definitely, in the after effects - the argument at Troy – it is the there goddesses who were over and over again responsible for the defeats and victories of men, by their unswerving divine intervention. The goddess’s divinity has been artistically represented in various ways (John Berger, 1972, pp 51-52). Cranach decided to make their figures bright, but also weak and waiflike. They are then infused with vigor by Reuben, but they are on display clearly, for us, as well as for Paris. The figures for Raphael are more powerful. They are nude in a naked world and their gestures suggest parity with Paris. But none of the representations really represents the power of the power of goddesses over Paris to the level that is achieved by Watteau (Anton Watteau, The Judgment of Paris, 1720-image). The iconographic essentials are in this picture just as they are in Cranach, Raphael, and Rubens. “Paris sits on the lower left of the picture before the central form of Aphrodite. Athena is on the right, dressed already, and holding her shield.
At the top of the picture, Hera retreats, accompanied by peacock. Hermes, Cupid, and Paris’ dog appear, as usual. Having said all this, the picture is so different in composition from any that went before that it represents a special genius” in this painting, the power of Paris is clearly rendered. Paris almost cowers and the way he hands apple over the is not is not a gesture of a judge who is conferring a accolade but that of a supplicant making an submission. Athena and Hera see this too with Hera conceding already and Athena appearing to be shielding herself from the power of the winning goddess. The situation is more intricate that this, for the power that Aphrodite has is openly sexual. All attention is on her as she disrobes (except for Hermes’ – turned away, of course). However all that is able to be seen to the spectators in the representation is her lower half. Cupid makes sure that Paris gets a clear view of the genitals of Aphrodite’s, and that, it seems that it is enough to secure her victory.