Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Ways of Seeing” as Want to Read:
Ways of Seeing
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Ways of Seeing

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  247,789 ratings  ·  1,522 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)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Ways of Seeing, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Jonathan Gracey Yes, it’s about a specific way a seeing images. These essays are about oil paintings and advertisements.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.85  · 
Rating details
 ·  247,789 ratings  ·  1,522 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Ways of Seeing
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 دیدن؛
Justin Evans
Jun 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: history-etc, essays
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
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
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,
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.

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
Matthew Appleton
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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'.
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.
Gahermi class 5-12
Aug 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is hands down amazing.

281219: exactly the text i wish i had read as a young artist... also clarifies some reasons i do not like, for example much oil painting, not the ‘realist’, ‘representational’, that precedes 1900 and invention of cameras. the depiction of object, material, subject etc. is to me false, illusion, without presence, when it is what the painting is ‘of’ rather than what the painting ‘is’... i prefer abstraction, line, watercolors, graphics...
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Hookah Dealers in Mumbai 1 10 Jun 13, 2019 11:55PM  
Pictographic Essays 5 148 Jun 10, 2019 11:03AM  
Kitabi Keeda: Ways Of Seeing Summary 1 16 Oct 06, 2017 02:31AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Story of Art
  • An Object of Beauty
  • PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives (PostSecret)
  • Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
  • The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
  • The Gashlycrumb Tinies (The Vinegar Works, #1)
  • Griffin and Sabine (Griffin & Sabine #1)
  • Just My Type: A Book About Fonts
  • Amphigorey (Amphigorey, #1)
  • Big Lies in a Small Town
  • The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss
  • Imagine: How Creativity Works
  • Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
  • Good Faeries Bad Faeries
  • The Last Nude
  • Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration with Nature
  • The Natural Way to Draw
  • Drawing from Memory
See similar books…
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

Related Articles

There is nothing like reading a history or biography book and being so completely transported to another time and place that you find...
49 likes · 18 comments
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »
“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.” 572 likes
“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.”
More quotes…