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Ways of Seeing

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  88,614 ratings  ·  496 reviews
John Berger’s Classic Text on Art

John Berger's Ways of Seeing is one of the most stimulating and the most influential books on art in any language. First published in 1972, it was based on the BBC television series about which the (London) Sunday Times critic commented: "This is an eye-opener in more ways than one: by concentrating on how we look at paintings . . . he wil
Paperback, 176 pages
Published December 1st 1990 by Penguin Books (first published 1972)
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Austin Kleon
My map of the book:

WAYS OF SEEING by John Berger
Sep 28, 2014 Trevor rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Trevor by: Lindig Harris
Shelves: art, photography
This book is based on a television series which can be viewed on YouTube here:

This is a really remarkable series and a remarkable, although annoying, book. The book is annoying because it should have been a coffee table book with large colour photographs and large font – instead it is a Penguin paperback with a font tending towards the unreadable and grey scale reproductions of the paintings that make them almost impossible to view. This is agonising, as
First of all, this entire book is set in bold. I don't know what crazy crazyman let that through the gate at Penguin but I just felt I had to point it out right away. It's still worth reading.

4 essays and 3 pictorial essays. Really interesting stuff cutting away some of the bullshit associated with our appreciation of art. It seems like museums are doing a lot of things wrong as well as right.

Chapter on oil-painting was particularly interesting but it was the last one about advertising (or "publ
2007 wrote: This book, based on a television series, explores how the art world of now has come to be by exploring what art was to humans in the past. The theories presented are very interesting and are posed with pictorial references that do very well to prove points. One interesting chapter deals exclusively with the 'Nude' in art overtime. Overtime it has been reviled, reveared, copied, censored, hidden, hoarded and abstracted. Another great chapter deals in the context in which people see ar ...more
Ahmad Sharabiani
Way of Seeing
جان برگر در «راه‌های دیدن» می‌گوید: «مردان به زنان می‌نگرند و زنان به خود نگاه می‌کنند که مورد تماشا قرار گرفته‌اند. این روزها، دیگر برای دوربین‌ها آسان نیست که زنان را فقط به صورت ابزاری جنسی به نمایش بگذارند زیرا زنان کارگردان و بازیگر، از نقش‌های خود برای عرضه‌ی هوش و قدرت آرمانی‌شان بهره می‌گیرند. زنان آمریکایی تلاش فراوانی کرده‌اند تا دنیایی از آن خود بسازند، دنیایی که در آن اصل نگاه مردانه نمی‌تواند از وجود آنها، هویت جنسی‌شان را به نمایش بگذارد بلکه مجبور خواهد بود آنها را زن
Deborah Palmer
This book though initially written in 1972 is still relevant to the reader today especially the essays dealing with the way women are seen in society. It is composed of seven essys, four use words and images, three only images. It discusses how women are view in society with an emphasis and concentration on European or Western culture. The images are from ads and famous European paintings. Being that I work in a museum and see paintings all day long this aspect interests me in particular.

Justin Evans
I am not the audience for this book, mainly because I've already read and more or less digested the handful of essays and ideas on which it is based. The seven chapters break down fairly simply.

1: Benjamin's 'Work of Art'--the ability to reproduce images alters the way we encounter works of art. This seems reasonable. Nobody gets to see a Giotto without having seen a reproduction first, except someone who has no interest in the Giotto in the first place. But Berger et al* go a step further: we
Riku Sayuj
Jun 25, 2012 Riku Sayuj rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Rohini Nair
Recommended to Riku by: Trevor
If you are really impatient, you may go and see Trevor's brilliant review for this book. Otherwise you may wait a few weeks for mine - I don't think it would be fair to review the book without seeing the documentary.
This book is very short and does not really say much of anything that will give you a heightened appreciation of art. What it will do is show you how the history of art is entwined with Capitalism. Berger offers an overtly Marxist critique of the tradition of oil painting and, subsequently, it's relation to modern publicity and advertising. I know quite a bit about Marxist theory, so bits of this were a little old hat. If you don't know a lot about Marxist theory (or Benjamin, for that matter) t ...more
A book about basic visual literacy, with 7 essays, 3 of them containing only images. It's not that he's original... he borrows a lot ideas from Walter Benjamin and Claude Levi-Strauss, but that he explains it in clear, easy language, with examples.

The chapter about oil painting was especially illuminating for me, as I had never understood how to tell a "great" oil painting from a mediocre one, having no context in which to see them. But Berger here really dissects the historical origins of the f
My personal rating. I'm not a scholar, but I've informally paid attention to art (in museums, introductory classes at college, etc.) for decades. I get the idea the Berger wants people like me to feel more comfortable with art, as he rejects so many samples of highbrow analyses. But he didn't quite reach far enough out to me. Maybe seeing the tv series upon which the book is based would help.

I will say I was impressed with some of the insights of the first essay. That one relates directly to al
Holly McIntyre
I finally pulled this "oldie but goodie" off my shelf and read it. I wish I had years ago.

Although the examples from its 1970s origin are dated, its thesis is perhaps even more valid today than then: Oil painting emerged just as the Western world entered the era of capitalism and imperialism. The technique of perspective makes the viewer the center of all he (yes, Virginia, "he") sees, just as "Western man" viewed the resources of the world. Oil paintings, therefore, became a vehicle by which We
Read this for my Composition class. Its a great read when first read since his main ideas stand out, have clarity, and are verified (to some degree), however re-reading it introduces the more "radical" ideas.

In his essay he raises the idea of "mysticification." Which is great and all but he chooses to not define it. I had to keep going back trying to find a definition in context however failed. He seems to switch it around a lot.

My Composition professor raised a good point- Berger is so against
On the top floor in the Strand Bookstore in New York, I saw a self-consciously bored worker show a struggling-to-be-bored kid with his mom to the art table. The worker was like "well, you need this, and this, and this" and I realized the kid must be in art school and the worker must have graduated pretty recently. The worker was like "have you read Ways of Seeing? By John Berger?" and wanted to have geeky enthusiasm, but kept her eyes half closed and only lifted the book two inches. The kid was ...more
Perhaps one of the all time must read small books ( less than 200 pages). Revisited for a reference and ended up rereading it . As fascinating as it is pioneering ( considering it was written in 1972, way back in capitalism's childhood, well before it grew up and cast it's powerful grip around the idea of human life).

Berger and co essentially chart the history of visual imagery in art, from the era of oil painting to television, slowly peeling out layer after layer teasing out the implicit mess
Lisa King
This was the book from the assigned reading list of a Thematic Development art course I considered taking. Imagine my delight when my local library had it in their catalogue. First and foremost, it was a small book with bad typography. Seriously, who uses bold font as their main text and emphasizes phrases by dropping the bold and italicizing it? This book's designers apparently. It's distracting at first but once you get past this unconventional formatting, the content is thought provoking.

By and large, I'm not a fan of manifestos. This one was no exception. It had a lot of insight, as manifestos often do, and I learned a lot from it, which is also not atypical. But to my mind, there's something insulting about a manifesto. To borrow a metaphor from Eudora Welty, writing like this is the equivalent of serving me my brain food already cut up for me. The ideas may be deeper than a trashy romance novel (for example), but the level of respect for the audience is roughly the same. And ...more
I read this book in an AMTRAK train from the Bay Area to Portland. It was eye-opening :). Some of the essays are pictures only, pictures of paintings. The book is a little older, to me it portrays the spirit of its time, I enjoyed quite a few surprising moments. It definitely brightened my train ride through the night. All this Marxist vocab...

As the title suggests, "Ways of Seeing" is about the ways we see. How our mind is formed through society and how this conditioning impacts on our percepti
A classic.

Like every art history student in the late 70s, I first read it in an Introduction to Art History class. It is in itself a historical document; published before America's fascination with French theory really took hold, and it neatly and succinctly offers capsule overviews of Benjamin and Barthes as well as a good if somewhat dated analysis of the nude from a feminist viewpoint. When Berger wrote this book, he was very much the rebellious iconoclast (going so far as to suggest that tra
Michael Dipietro
It's been a while since I read 'Ways of Seeing' for school, but I hated it. Why? In the most simple way, because Berger talks again and again about demystification, yet I found his book to be thinly veiled Socialist propaganda. His Marxist interpretations of paintings can be extremely simplistic and one-sided - making you feel dumb for wanting to appreciate an artwork for its beauty or value as a cultural artifact. All in all, it reads like a text by a highschooler whose critical thinking isn't ...more
May 09, 2012 Manchespoetra marked it as to-read
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sarah Canavan
really good so far. you always here the naked woman in art defended by calling it a study of human form, or as something being worshiped or an ideal of perfection or whatever, any of these do one thing and thats objectify the form of a woman. the woman is presenting herself to the artist, then to the viewer. she is giving and we are taking. the artist has taken and kept. this essay really said many of the things i already felt when i see women in art but wasn't able to explain. this is something ...more
Excellent book. Especially enjoyed the last chapter on advertising--Berger tells us (in 1972) that material consumption has been turned into a "subsstitute for democracy." He declared that the "choice of what one eats (or wears or drives) takes the place of significant political choice" "helps to mask and compensate for all that is undemocratic with society."

Enjoyed how Berger gives it to us by summarizing the idea of advertising to the fact that we are made to feel unsatisfied with our own
An excellent review of ideas about art history in real-world (read: political and social) context. Berger synthesizes ideas from Walter Benjamin, Levi-Strauss, and other thinkers succinctly and to great effect. He powers through the obfuscatory bullshit of art historians to get to meaty ideas about power and wealth, though I will warn you about a leftward slant. Personally, I'm in complete agreement with him, but if you are in a different political camp, or if you subscribe to the aforementioned ...more
Once you get past the squat bold typeface and the dated black and white photos, this book actually throws up some interesting questions.

I liked the first essay, which talks of the "mystification" of art, something I agree with myself. The other essays, in images as well as in words, deal with subjects as different as gender roles in Western art, oil painting as a distinct visual language and advertising. Yet, the essays often link together and I especially liked the parallels drawn between oil p
Mar 09, 2011 Greta rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: art
This was an incredible little book about looking at art. John Berger discusses the origins of and meaning behind oil painting and how photography changed our relationship to it, but also gave us another way of looking at things. I particularly liked the chapter discussing "publicity" (advertising) and how he so coherently explains how capitalism and its ensuing consumption is turned by advertising into a substitute for democracy. We perceive choice as freedom and the freedom to choose what to "c ...more
سلمى  الشمّري
الكتاب يحوي سبعة مقالات، مبنية على برنامج تلفزيوني من إنتاج البي بي سي والذي يحمل العنوان ذاته. أربعة منها مستخدمة اللفظ والصورة بينما الثلاثة الأخرى تضم لوحات وصور تعبيرية فقط، مفسحة بذلك دورا للقارئ في ملاحظة واستنباط نظريات أخرى، شاذة أو مشابهة للنُسق الوارد هنا. من مرجع العلاقة بين ما نُبصره، ما نراه حقيقي بشكل ملموس، وما قد نتخيله لأفكارنا المصاغة مسبقا والمتأثرة بأحوال البيئة والمجتمع المحيط. مرورا بتاريخ اللوحات الزيتية وأثر وسائل النسخ الحديثة عليها وعلى قيمتها الحالية التي تعمد على كونه ...more
* Words written next to an artwork will change the way it's entirely perceived - such as in advertising, and the works of Damien Hirst (see "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living")
Reproductions and cropping a part of a painting will also change the way it's meaning.

This also draws similarities & differences between the wealth, status & power one already has, represented by the subjects/still-life objects/themes of paintings (everything but landscapes) which o
I can only wonder how I study what I do and how I went so long without reading this prolific little book. Composed of four text + image essays and three image-only essays, Ways of Seeing traces art history from the Renaissance era through contemporary publicity spreads. Of note to me is the last essay on publicity, and it's relationship to oil paintings, and it's worth derived from the "future tense" of commodities. Berger asserts that our own personal view of our self is dramatically changed by ...more
Patrik Sampler
John Berger is a brilliant writer, and I'd recommend Ways of Seeing as an important must-read, not only because the subject is fascinating, but also because the book is easy to get through. The first chapter will be nothing new to anyone with a basic background in art history, but the analysis gets more engaging as the book goes on. The last chapter, on advertising, may be out of date -- things have changed (somewhat) since 1972. This was nevertheless one of the more inspiring parts of the book ...more
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Pictographic Essays 2 93 Feb 06, 2013 08:05AM  
  • Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
  • The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media
  • The Medium is the Massage
  • On Photography
  • The Ongoing Moment
  • Concerning the Spiritual in Art
  • The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture
  • The Shock of the New
  • The Photograph as Contemporary Art (World of Art)
  • Art as Experience
  • Diane Arbus: Monograph
  • Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths
  • Art in Theory, 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas
  • Women, Art, and Society (World of Art)
  • Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye
  • The Lost Painting
  • Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture
  • Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration with Nature
John Peter Berger is an English art critic, novelist, painter and author. His novel G. won the 1972 Booker Prize, and his essay on art criticism Ways of Seeing, written as an accompaniment to a BBC series, is often used as a college text.
More about John Berger...
About Looking G. To the Wedding And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos Pig Earth

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“You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting “Vanity,” thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for you own pleasure.” 96 likes
“To be born a woman has to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men. The social presence of women is developed as a result of their ingenuity in living under such tutelage within such a limited space. But this has been at the cost of a woman's self being split into two. A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another....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 most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object -- and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.” 54 likes
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