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About Looking

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  6,087 ratings  ·  89 reviews
As a novelist, essayist, and cultural historian, John Berger is a writer of dazzling eloquence and arresting insight whose work amounts to a subtle, powerful critique of the canons of our civilization. In About Looking he explores our role as observers to reveal new layers of meaning in what we see. How do the animals we look at in zoos remind us of a relationship between ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published April 20th 2009 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (first published 1980)
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Average rating 4.02  · 
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 ·  6,087 ratings  ·  89 reviews


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Trevor
Feb 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art, social-theory
One of the strangest things in life is the way that things you had never heard of only a couple of months before can suddenly appear everywhere. Now, while that is quite to be expected with, say, that K-Pop guy pretending to ride a horse, I’m more interested in things like the most famous article in this collection, Why Look At Animals? I only really discovered Berger last year and his seminal work Ways of Seeing. Then my daughter was doing her honours year and was doing research into Japanese ...more
Brynn
Mar 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"All theories of ultimate origin are only ways of better defining what followed." (8)

"The photographic moment for Strand is a biographical or historic moment, whose duration is ideally measured not by seconds but by its relation to a lifetime. Strand does not pursue an instant, but encourages a moment to arise as one might encourage a story to be told." (47)

"What served in place of the photograph; before the camera's invention? The expected answer is the engraving, the drawing, the painting. The
...more
Amari
Sep 25, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: photography
I had some difficulty with the longer essays in the first section of the book, but strangely, I discovered (after limping through a few pages at a time, week after week) that I was reading the book with too-great attention. I needed to take it somehow less seriously in order to receive the intended content and not become mired in the individual sentences. I find many of Berger's provocative social statements very attractive -- and, in equal measure, tough. Even with my spotty knowledge of art ...more
Adam
Nov 23, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art, essays
If you're new to Berger (or to the art world in general), I recommend skipping this and instead picking up "Ways of Seeing." That collection is far more accessible to a general audience.

"About Looking" is full of Berger's insightful and impressive commentary on art and photography. (And the collection "Uses of Photography" in this work is a good read for those who make their living behind the lens.) Where this edition fails, for me, is in its lack of illustrative plates. My knowledge of art
...more
Daniel Wright
When explaining a work of art, Berger manages to be exquisitely precise and endlessly suggestive. His words somehow translate the visual beauty into beauty on the page, and leave the reader that same feeling of having glimpsed something unworldly and beyond explanation.
John Madera
May 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
John Berger's About Looking is a smart, impassioned, eloquent, and illuminating collection of essays. Highlights for me: the essay "Why Look at Animals," (a reread); the section on photography; and the essays on Francis Bacon, Giacometti, and Rodin. Suffused throughout is Berger's welcome Marxist humanism, reflected in his keen attention to and advocacy for the oppressed and otherwise marginalized.
Indfusion
Apr 29, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in art and looking
Well I bought this book for the photo essays, I loved it for all the essays. Very insightful and well-written, it, as good criticism does, made me feel my ignorance of that which I didn't know - which was a lot - and made me want to learn more. I should have read it before traveling Paris and Florence: I could have appreciated my museum visits all the more and learned where to look.

I will read his other art books as well.
Jase
"Why Look at Animals?" and "Between Two Colmars" are both stellar essays that, since reading, I think about frequently. The rest I could take or leave.
Lysergius
Mar 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: art-history
This is the second book by John Berger I have had the good fortune to read. A collection of essays dealing with a variety of issues related to the way in which humans observe the world. The book falls into three sections the largest, the last, dealing specifically with artistic perception.
sdw
Mar 28, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Berger's book is a series of short essays (each originally published as a column in New Society ) examining the act of looking at visual culture. I picked this book up to assist in a project analyzing "the right to look" in several food studies texts. The first essay, suggested by the cover, engages the act of looking at Zoo animals and Berger's contention that zoo animals do no look back at us. This is the only essay I found really helpful for my project. I may have had a different experience ...more
Ellie
Jan 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
All essays in this collection are provoking insights on looking, in all its genres. I read it for the response essay to Susan Sontag's On Photography ("Uses of Photography"). However, the most interesting and original one turned out to be "Why Look at Animals?" - not just the cultural metaphors animals have been through the ages, but the act of looking at them. "Photographs of Agony", on the other hand, about photos of violence in the then-current war in Vietnam, reminded me of many discussions ...more
Carol Ciavonne
Jun 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read John Berger's Ways of Seeing many years ago and retained the impression that it was a good book. Then recently, I read an article about him and decided to read more. So glad I did. He writes like a poet... with beauty and insight. I especially enjoyed 2 essays in the book: Two Colmars, in which he looks at the same altarpiece in visits 10 years apart, and sees his own changes. The second is Fields... which is not the same as the postmodern use of the word, but extends to it, while ...more
Arpad Okay
Jul 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: geek
Getting its shape and effect down into words is hard for me. This is a book of art criticism- but the pieces themselves are rarely the point. This book is about life, how we as humans perceive it, how we put that perception to use. Each artist is the window through which we view an aspect of elemental being. I need to read this again, with a pen, so I can underline passages and take notes.
Christina Craig
I was able to understand and relish the essays in the beginning of the book, on war photography, Paul Strand, looking at animals. They were really wonderful in many ways and I hope to read more photography criticism like them. They fascinated me. Reader's delight.
Michelle
Sep 14, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
the essay "looking at animals" is really fascinating. chances are you'll have some problems with what Berger has to say about looking (at women in particular), but if you are interested in visual culture and spectacle, you'll get much from reading this book.
adam
Jun 14, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Hit-or-miss collection of essays. Berger's a really good writer, but there's a heavy Marxist slant to his thinking that makes a lot of this book seem dated and difficult to understand. That said, his essay "Why Look at Animals?" is terrific, one of the best I've read.
Will Allen
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has been with me for years. I've read it several times and the re-reads always bring fresh insights on the relationship of art and culture, notably capitalist culture. Highly recommended.
Keshav
Nov 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
illuminating, and provides lucid, deep insights in the way that John Berger does. must read for beginners to art, more so than 'Ways of Seeing' I thought.
Carole B
Sep 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Move over, Wendell Berry, John Berger is my new favorite antique Luddite. And, like many of the authors I fall for, he's dead, which is more On Brand than you, Berry, who are still alive. Must be the healthful Kentucky air. Not that I mind; I still have hope of running away to apprentice myself to you and spend my days in those glowing green rolling fields and my nights pecking away at a typewriter, shocking all with my breathtakingly beautiful prose and living out the peak of my ideals. This ...more
Nick Jones
Sep 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
A series of essays by John Berger, mostly written in the 1970s, a few from the 1960s. There is his famous essay “Why Look at Animals”, four about photography and the rest about artists and their work – although there is a final one about looking at a field. Anyone who has heard Berger speak (on radio, T.V.) will recognize the voice: clear, patient, explaining – the voice of a teacher. But the essays are not academic essays, they don’t tend to follow an argument; mostly they make a point (or ...more
Lola
I quite liked some of the essays, especially "photographs of agony" about war photography. his conclusion is very insightful, even for times in which classical war photography has been exchanged for pictures taken by phone cameras. they essay about courbet and the imprint his geographical surroundings left on his paintings was good too and the beginning commentary about our perception of animals and the traces of our historical view and relationship with them has been eye-opening. It gets only ...more
Karen
Jul 26, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Pascale
Dec 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfic, philosophy
I was recommended this by a prof when I asked readings that explored the philosophy of vision. Ironically it apparently inspired The Third Hotel by Laura van den Berg which I picked up while I was working my way through this - synchronicity? Anyhoots, I quite enjoyed the first 2 sections - the last, on painting was a little bit less philosophical and was applicable to me for a examination of the role of vision in consumer culture. I think the first two thirds are super relevant and accessible - ...more
Irene Wang
Aug 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In About Looking Berger explores our role as observers to reveal new layers of meaning in what we see. How do the animals we look at in zoos remind us of a relationship between man and beast all but lost in the twentieth century? What is it about looking at war photographs that doubles their already potent violence? How do the nudes of Rodin betray the threats to his authority and potency posed by clay and flesh? And how does solitude inform the art of Giacometti? In asking these and other ...more
Zoe Ireland
Berger's novel is definitely a challenging intellectual read that dives deep into the way humans observe and interact with the world around us. It took me longer that usual to read due to some intense periods of work and general business. I would reccomend this book if you are able to sit with it for extended periods of time and give it 100% of your attention. This is not a light read, but it is a fascinating one.
Justin Labelle
Apr 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fantastic collection of essays.
Berger inspires his readers to see and experience the world in a way so few of us bother to explore.
His essays, which range from Animals, Picasso, Turner and the death Giacometti, bring the scope of history and minute detail, into vivid context.
Influential, memorable, and ultimately haunting.
Strongly recommended.
Christine
Jul 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not as great as Ways of Seeing (well, this is a collection of different essays, so how can it be?), but Berger on art, art history, art reception, etc. is always worth reading. Particularly read for the "Uses of Photography" section, but "Why Look at Animals?" "Hals and Bankruptcy," and "Rodin and Sexual Domination" (I had no idea) were especially illuminating/engaging.
Charlie Kruse
Apr 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful essays that penetrate art from every way, exploring the possibilities of interpretation and the limits of psychological inquiry. Berger is always careful, always attentive and alway precise of both the content and the rhetoric of each of his pieces. Easy to read, but difficult to digest, I also of course can't help reading them in his voice. Gotta get my hands on more of his books!!
Mr Shahabi
I've enjoyedost of this book, but most of the artists that he mentioned I didn't know of them, the plus side is that Now I do, so more material to explore for me.

I'd recommend this for academic people or serious readers who are intrested in the sociological aspect of Looking at works of Art

Drink tea, and take a photo of it while your at it.
Mohamed
Apr 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A tougher, more in-depth read than Ways of Seeing that probably targets people with a bigger background in the arts. Some essays got pretty technical for me, but Berger's insights remain vital.
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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
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“The small family living unit lacks space, earth, other animals, seasons, natural temperatures, and so on. The pet is either sterilised or sexually isolated, extremely limited in its exercise, deprived of almost all other animal contact, and fed with artificial foods. This is the material process which lies behind the truism that pets come to resemble their masters or mistresses. They are creatures of their owner’s way of life. Equally important is the way the average owner regards his pet. (Children are, briefly, somewhat different.) The pet completes him, offering responses to aspects of his character which would otherwise remain unconfirmed. He can be to his pet what he is not to anybody or anything else. Furthermore, the pet can be conditioned to react as though it, too, recognises this. The pet offers its owner a mirror to a part that is otherwise never reflected. But, since in this relationship the autonomy of both parties has been lost (the owner has become the-special-man-he-is-only-to-his-pet, and the animal has become dependent on its owner for every physical need), the parallelism of their separate lives has been destroyed.” 0 likes
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