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Ways of Seeing

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  282,394 ratings  ·  1,727 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 will
Paperback, 176 pages
Published 1990 by Penguin (first published 1972)
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Sibella Hill It can be what is left out in the 'seeing' or describing as well. John Berger comments on how art criticism focuses on the physical aspects of the pai…moreIt can be what is left out in the 'seeing' or describing as well. John Berger comments on how art criticism focuses on the physical aspects of the painting, or some of them, such as light, shade, texture, but does not address the psychological and social aspect of what is being portrayed. In the case of a portrait, how does the painter actually portray these people? Was he actually sympathetic toward them, or could there be something in their appearance that suggests resentment or even animosity?(less)

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Jun 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Trevor by: Lindig Harris
Shelves: photography, art
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
Ahmad Sharabiani
Way of Seeing, John Berger

Ways of Seeing is a 1972 television series of 30-minute films created chiefly by writer John Berger and producer Mike Dibb. It was broadcast on BBC Two in January 1972 and adapted into a book of the same name.

The book Ways of Seeing was written by Berger and Dibb, along with Sven Blomberg, Chris Fox, and Richard Hollis.

The book consists of seven numbered essays: four using words and images; and three essays using only images.

عنوانها: «شیوه های نگریستن»؛ «شیوه های دید
Justin Evans
Jun 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: essays, history-etc
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
May 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Steven Godin

This was a great introduction to the work of John Berger, and my doubts that this would turn into something rather dull were swiftly blown away. His approach to art isn't overly complex thus you don't have to be a cultural boffin on the subject, yet its deep on a theoretical level to challenge and stimulate the old grey matter. Ways of Seeing offers not just an idea but also an invitation to see and know the world differently. As the TV series aired in 1972 (four years before I was born) I will
Manuel Antão
Mar 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

"Seeing Comes Before Words: "Ways of Seeing" by John Berger “But because it is nevertheless ‘a work of art”’ – and art is thought to be greater than commerce – its market price is said to be a reflection of its spiritual value of an object, as distinct from a message or an example, can only be explained in terms of magic or religion.”
In “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger
“Original paintings are silent and still in a sense that informatio
Riku Sayuj
Dec 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Jun 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, based on a four-part 1972 BBC documentary series of the same name, is considered one of the most influential and accessible works of writing about art in the English language — and rightly so. Consisting of four textual essays and three picture essays bereft of text, this book deconstructs the dominant cultural ‘gaze’ towards art and connects it with the way we regard and ascribe meaning, both to works of art and to the world around us.
Particularly insightful,
May 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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
May 19, 2020 rated it liked it
Interesting little book. The author’s matter-of-factness annoyed me at times and I had the sense that he kept looking for the worst in the human nature of artists, art owners and consumers alike. If nothing else, he gives us food for thought.
I enjoyed the essay on publicity images the most. For what it’s worth, I couldn’t help comparing Berger’s view that “Publicity is about social relations, not objects. Its promise is not of pleasure, but of happiness: happiness as judged from the outside by
Deborah Palmer
Jul 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.

Mina Akida
If you think you like looking art and going to galleries - ha - then you need to take a minute to read and listen to this conversation Berger is going to have with you.

Link to the documentary (which I definitely recommend you watch to supplement the reading of the text):

Will add my proper in-depth review of this later (as it really does deserve one). For now, I will just say that Berger makes us think: he makes us think about the impact of images, their h
Apr 11, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: essays
Almost laughably disappointing. Berger obviously has the best of intentions, but his analysis is amateurish at best, pathetically reactionary (almost to the point of seeming to whine) at worst, and largely cribbed from thinkers of far greater intellectual originality and power than himself.

For starters, he seems either ignorant of or unwilling to admit that what we broadly call 'mainstream visual art' is, was, and quite likely almost always has been directly tied up with wealth; with commissions
Matthew Ted
Apr 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
62nd book of 2020.

20th April, my birthday. I got this as a present today, and have spent the day, on and off, reading it (between cake and beer and garden sunshine). This is usually regarded as the 'most influential' book on art ever, or at least one of them. Berger writes in a clean, no-nonsense kind of way. Despite discussing nudity in art, or the history of art, or discussing the paintings printed in the book, it's never hard to follow. I suppose someone with even no background interest in ar
Dec 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
I admit I’m not well-versed in art history and theory, so that may be a reason this book affected me so deeply, but I was really struck by these essays. They’re incisive. They’re structured well. And they truly made me think. They made me think about art as a sign, a symbol, an argument, a brag, a promise, a prison.

Berger is very clear about his purview here, which I appreciate. Though he mentions photography and advertising and film, and he draws contrasts to sculpture and Eastern art, the real
May 27, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: art
“There is more than meets the eye”
I recently reread Kenneth Clark's Civilization. It was based on a British documentary TV series, from the end of the 1960s. In it Clark offers a very own, but still fairly classic introduction to art. The book of John Berger (1926-2017) and the accompanying TV-series (look it up on You Tube!) was released in 1972 and was the antipode of Clark’s. Berger looked at the works of art very differently, or more correctly: he looked at the way we "see" very differently.
Peycho Kanev
Oct 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.
But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.

* * *

Publicity is the life of this culture – in so far as without publicity capitalism could not survive – and at the same
Daniel Clausen
May 29, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-of-2021
I first read the book in 2000 as a young freshman in a class on Popular Culture and Ideology. I remember being overwhelmed by the wonderful insights of this book. Now, more than 20 years later, I can still appreciate the book, while at the same time being a bit more skeptical of its insights...and at the same time wondering if it can speak to the current moment in history.

If I had to sum up the book in a few short sentences it would be this: Paintings and pictures are always for something and s
Oct 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
this is a semi regular occurence in my life: books i was assigned to read in college that i did not read or did not read with any great diligence and then some years later i come to learn that said book slaps majorly. berger's project of translating frankfurt school seems particularly worthwhile but also it is just a fun and humane engagement with visual art ...more
Christopher Luciano
Mar 07, 2016 rated it did not like it
All of what I picked up from this atrocity of a Book is that John Berger is a pretentious cunt. He hides behind the fact that he states he's "demystifying" art when in actuality he's giving you his opinion on the propaganda of art and how the artist doesn't exist. I must say first and foremost I am a huge believer in the auteur theory and author's/artist's purpose, so this is why I am opposed to this book. Berger is merely under the assumption that all art is just a way for the elite white male ...more
Sep 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art, fine-arts
This book really made me think about how to view art. In particular, the connection between the oil paintings of the last few hundred years and advertising images was something I had never thought about. This book also presents some insightful criticisms of the use of nudes in traditional art.
Sep 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: university

"Seeing comes before words.”

Ways of reading - - meaning/ analysis. Personal perspective and context of writing or image.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

There is a divergence between looking and seeing art and literature. Such as, if one were to apply Marxist literary criticism (Ideology) when examining a work of art. Art is in essence propaganda, thus what it represents is a statement/ critique of capitalism and social hierarchy.

If one observes the surface value or façade of art, you will instantaneously connect wi
Oct 18, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Jun 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Superb. A wonderful, succinct, concise, and pithy discussion of the history of imagery. How we got from the world of the oil painting to the world of television commercials. Great pick for anyone frustrated with --or mystified by-- 'the arts'. ...more
The book contains a series of essays, all related to art. I read this collection right after having come back from London – having spent days surrounded by art works. I had a million thoughts about art itself and museums, and art works in museums. I wrote out some of my thoughts and then came across some of the same ideas in this insightful beautiful booklet. Perhaps this is why I feel so strongly towards the first of the essays.
Nevertheless, I try here to capture the essence of it, in some quo
Mar 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing” was one of the books I had to read. When the slim volume arrived, it was a bit of an anticlimax: the writing was in bold letters, the photographs of paintings were in black and white, lots of them. Apparently, it sprang out of a series of Television programmes shown in 1972. It is worth watching the series on You Tube, and certainly more rewarding.

He is, I think, the precursor of the excellent television art historians and
Holly McIntyre
Dec 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Rachel Louise Atkin
Jun 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned
Have been meaning to read this for ages. Was incredibly informative and well written, discussing oil paintings, depictions of women and and deconstructing our general perception of art. Loved the picture essays as I haven’t really read anything like that before. The final essay on publicity, signs and consumer advertising is probably something I’ll use in a lot in my academic life and I’m so glad to have read it.
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John Peter Berger was 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.

Later he was self exiled to continental Europe, living between the french Alps in summer and the suburbs of Paris in winter. Since then, his production has incre

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