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 a Visiting Scholar at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming Introduction to Sociology text. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.