Christina W. alerted us to the availability of the first episode of John Berger’s 1972 BBC documentary, Ways of Seeing. Berger was is a artist, author, and art critic. In the first episode of the documentary (in four parts below) he asks how the ease of reproduction made possible by the camera (both still and moving) has changed the meaning of art. The episode is a bit slow (for my taste), but has some interesting ideas.
First he argues that the ability to reproduce works of art in books, on posters, postcards, and television screens means that art is experienced in a decontextualized way (or in the context of, say, your living room). No longer something we pilgrimage to, to consume in a very specific context, they come to us. This, he argues, has multiplied a work of art’s possible meanings.
As an aside, he makes an interesting argument that the obsession with authenticity — “usually linked with cash value,” he says, “but also invoked in the name of culture and civilization” — is actually “a substitute for what paintings lost when the camera made them reproducible.”
He then talks about how our experience of art is mediated by media (whether it be an art book or a discussion of art in a television program), so that our reaction to it is inevitably shaped by its re-interpretation. The art critic, for example, tells us what to think about a piece of art. (No doubt, his call for skepticism certainly can be applied to Sociological Images.)
But reproduction and the multiplication of meaning also makes it easier to make connections and have personalized reactions.
(Btw, there is a pretty awesome moment at 4:38 of the third installment.)
Start watching Episode Two here.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Vidya — July 18, 2010
Berger's series is one of the best ever made, IMHO, and ranks up there with Sagan's Cosmos and Burke's Connections. An excellent example of making academic theory accessible to the masses.
PF — July 18, 2010
"Berger was a artist, author, and art critic"--actually, he is all of those things--he's very much alive and writing for Harper's Magazine, among other outlets.
naharnahekim — July 18, 2010
I would highly recommend his book by the same name, Which I believe is derived from the video, although it might be the other way around. Changed the way I look at the world, and really helped me when I started dealing with issues of race and sex/gender/what have you.
Ames — July 19, 2010
Berger's book indeed opened my eyes when I studied it as a young, naive art student. I'm looking forward to seeing the ideas in video format. Also, if you want the complete picture for some of these ideas, you really have to read "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" by Walter Benjamin, on whose shoulders Berger absolutely stood to make his points. And you can round it all out by reading Marshall McLuhan or at least seeing "McLuhan's Wake" a fascinating film that puts many of these ideas, and those related, in interesting light and interpretation.
das — July 19, 2010
Man, why can't we have more documentaries like this? I'm fascinated by science and nature, but sometimes I feel like that's the only realm that people feel is appropriate for captivating, eye-opening 'edutainment'. We could certainly stand to have some more 'popular' works that elucidate _very_ interesting ideas about culture, history, art, etc., especially ones that shake up popular understandings.
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[…] 2. Ways of Seeing by John Berger – episode 1 (all four parts) – http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2010/07/18/ways-of-seeing-by-john-berger/ 3. The Machine is Us/ing Us (re: web 2.0) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLlGopyXT_g 4. […]