Humanities
250 word paragraph

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the direction written in the photo and response to the questions given



250 word paragraph
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’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.’ 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 almost certainly change the way you look at pictures.’ By now he has. ’Berger has the ability to cut right through the mystification of the professional art critics ... He is a liberator of images: and once we have allowed the paintings ~o work on us directly, we are in a much better position to make a meaningful evaluation’ Peter Fuller, Arts Review ’,The influence of the series and the book ... was enormous ... It opened up for general attention areas of cultural study that are now commonplace’ Geoff Dyer in Ways of Telling JOHN BERGER Seeing comes before words. The child looks nizes before it can speak. But there is also another sense in which seeing before words. It is seeing which establishes our place rrotmding world ; we explain that world with words, ;an never undo the fact that we are surrounded by relation between what we see and what we know is r settled. Published by the British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books The front cover shows The Key of Dreams by Rene Magr~tte (photo Rudolph E~urckhardt) UK £8.99 U~A $14.00 The Surrealist painter IV~agritte comntented ~resent gap between words and seeing in 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. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight. The Surrealist painter Nlagritte commented on this always-present gap between words and seeing in a painting called The Key of Dreams. notice how the.faculty of touch is like a static, limited form of sight.) We never look at just one thing; we are always looking at ~e relation between things and ourselves. Our vision is continually active, continually moving, continually holding thiugs in a circle around itaalf, constituting what is present Soon after we can see, we are aware that we can also be seen. The eye of the other combines with our own aye to make it fully credible that we are p~ of the visible world. ~f we ac~pp~ that we can see ~ha~ hil~ over there, we propose ~hat from that hiBI we can be seen. The reciprocal ~ature o~ vision is more fundamen~l than that of spoken ~ialogue. And often dialogue is an a~empt to verbalize this an attempt to explain how, either metaphorically or literally, ’you see things’, and an attempt to discover how "he sees ~hings’. in the sense in which we use the word in this book, a~l images are man-made. The way we see things is affected by what we kr~ow or what we believe. In the IVtlddle Ages when men believed in the physical existence of Hell the sight of fire must have meant something different from what it means today. Naverthe|ass their idea of Hell owed a lot to the sight of fire consuming and the ashes remaining - as well as to their experience of the pain of burns. When in love, the sight of the beloved has a completeness which no words and no embrace can match : a completeness which only the act of making love can temporari|y accommodate. Vet this seeing which comas before words, and can never be quite covered by them, is not a question of mechanically reacting to stimuli. (It can only be thought of in this way if one isolates the small part of the process which concerns the eye’s retina.) We only see what we look at. To look is an act of choice. As a result of this act, what we see is brought within our reach - though not necessarily within arm’s reach. To touch something is to situate oneself in relation to it. (Close your eyes, move round the room and An image is a sight which has been recreated or reproduced, it is an appearance, or a set of appearances, which has been detached from the place and time in which it first made its appearance and preserved - for a few moments or a few centuries. Every image embodies a way of seeing. Even a photograph. For photographs are not, as is often assumed, a mechanical record. Every time we look at a photograph, we are aware, however slightly, of the photographer selecting that sight from an infinity of other possible sights. This is true even in the most casual family snapshot. The photographer’s way of seeing is reflected in his choice of subject. The painter’s way of seeing is reconstituted by the marks he makes on the canvas or paper. Yet, although every image embodies a way of seeing, our perception or appreciation of an image depends also upon our own way of seeing. (it may be, for example, that Sheila is one figure among twenty; but for our own reasons she is the one we have eyes for.) Images were first made to conjure up the appearances of something that was absent. Gradually it became evident that an image could outlast what it represented; it then showed how something or somebody had once looked ~ and thus by implication how the subject had once been seen by other people. Later still the specific vision of the image-maker was also recognized as part of the record. An image became a record of how X had seen Y. This was the result of an increasing consciousness of individuality, accompanying an increasing awareness of history. It would be rash to try to date this last development precisely. But certainly in Europe such consciousness has existed since the beginning of the Renaissance. No other kind of relic or text from the past can offer such a direct testimony about the world which surrounded other people at other times. In this respect images are more precise and richer than literature. To say this is not to deny the expressive or imaginative quality of art, treating it as mere documentary evidence; the more imaginative the work, the more profoundly it allows us to share the artist’s experience of the visible. Yet when an image is presented as a work of art, the way people look at it is affected by a whole series of learnt assumptions about art. Assumptions concerning: Beauty Truth Genius Civilization Form Status ~ Taste, etc. Many of these assumptions no longer accord with the world as it is. (The world-as-it-is is more than pure objective fact, it includes consciousness.) Out of true with the present, these assumptions obscure the past. They mystify rather than clarify. The past is never there waiting to be discovered, to be recognized for exactly what it is. History always constitutes the relation between a present and its past. Consequently fear of the present leads to mystification of the past. The past is not for living in; it is a well of conclusions from which we draw in order to act. Cultural mystification of ’~he past entails a double loss. Works of art are made unnecessarily remote. And the past offers us fewer conclusions to complete in action. When we "see" a landscape, we situate ourselves in it. If we "saw’ the art of the past, we would situate ourselves in history. When we are prevented from seeing it, we are being deprived of the history which belongs to us. Who benefits from this deprivation ? In the end, the art of the past is being mystified because a privileged minority is striving to invent a history which can retrospectively justify the role of the ruling classes, and such a justification can no longer make sense in modern terms. And so, inevitably, it mystifies. Let us consider a typical example of such mystification. A two-volume study was recently published on Frans Hals.* It is the authoritative work to date on this painter. As a book of specialized art history it is no better and no worse then the average. of over eighty, was destitute. Most of his life he had been in debt. During the winter of 1664, the year he began painting these pictures, he obtained three loads of peat on public charity, otherwise he would have frozen to death. Those who now sat for him were administrators of such public charity. The author records these facts and then explicitly says that it would he incorrect to read into the paintings any criticism of the sitters. There is no evidence, he says, that Hale painted them in a spirit of bitterness. The author considers them, howe~er, remarkable works of art and explains why. Here be writes of the Regentesees: Each woman speaks to us of the human condition with equal importance. Each woman stands out with equal clarity against the enormous dark surface, yet they are linked by a firm rhythmical arrangement and the subdued diagonal pattern formed by their heads and hands. Subtle modulations of the deep, glowing blacks contribute to the harmonious fusion of the whole and form an unforgettab/e contrast with the powerfuJ whites and vivid flesh tones where the detached strokes reach a peak of breadth and strength. (our italics) The last two great paintings by Frans Hals portray the Governors and the Governesses of an Aims House for old paupers in the Dutch seventeenth-century city of Haarlem. They were officially commissioned portraits. Hais, an old man 12 The compositional unity of a painting contributes fundamentally to the power of its image, it is reasonable to consider a painting’s composition. But here the composition is written about as though it were in itself the emotional charge of the painting. Terms like harmonious fusion, unforgettable contrast, reaching a peak of breadth and strength transfer the emotion provoked by the image from the plane of lived experience, to that of disinterested ’art appreciation’. All conflict disappears. One is left with the unchanging "human condition’, and the painting considered as e ma~vellously made object. Very little is known about Hals or the Regents who commissioned him. It is not possible to produce circumstantial evidence to establish what their relations were. But there is the evidence of the paintings themselves: the evidence of e group of men and a group of women as seen by another man, the painter. Study this evidence and judge for yourself. 13 The art historian fears such direct judgement: As in so many other pictures by Hals, the penetrating characterizations almost seduce us into believing that we know the personality traits and even the habits of the men and women portrayed. What is this "seduction" he writes of? It is nothing less than the paintings working upon’us. They work upon us because we accept the way Hals saw his sitters. We do not accept this innocently. We accept it in so far as it corresponds to our own observation of people, gestures, faces, institutions. This is possible because we still llve in a society of comparable social relations and moral values. And it is precisely this which gives the paintings their psychological and social urgency, it is this - not the painter’s skill as a ¯seducer" - which convinces us that we can know the people portrayed. The author continues: in the case of some critics the seduction has been a total success. It has, for example, been asserted that the Regent in the tipped slouch hat, which hardly covers any of his long, lank hair, and whose curiously set eyes do not focus, was shown in a drunken state. 14 This, he suggests, is a libel. He argues that it was a fashion at that time to wear hats on the side of the head. He cites medical opinion to prove that the Regent’s expression could well be the result of a facial paralysis. He insists that the painting would have been unacceptable to the Regents if one of them had been portrayed drunk. One might go on discussing each of these points for pages. (Men in seventeenth-century Holland wore their hats on the side of their heads in order to be thought of as adventurous and pleasure-lovlng. Heavy drinking was an approved practice. Etcetera.) But such a discussion would take us even farther away from the only confrontation which matters and which the author is determined to evade. in this confrontation the Regents and Regentesses stare at Hals, a destitute old painter who has lost his reputation and lives off public charity; he examines them through the eyes of a pauper who must nevertheless try to be objective, i.e., must try to surmount the way he sees as a pauper. This is the drama of these paintings. A drama of an ¯ unforgettable contrast’. Mystification has little to do wtth the vocabulary used. Mystification is the process of explaining 15 According to usage and conventions which are at last being questioned but have by no means been overcome, the social presence of a woman is different in kind from that of a man. A man’s presence is dependent upon the promise of power which he embodies. If the promise is large and credible his presence is striking. If it is small or incredible, he is found to have little presence. The promised power may be moral, physical, temperamental, economic, social, sexual - but its object is always exterior to the man. A man’s presence suggests what he is capable of doing to you Jr for you. His presence regulates what is and is not "permissible" within her presence may be fabricated, in the sense that he pretends to be presence. Every one of her actions - whatever its dire~t capable of what he is not. But the pretence is always towards purpose or motivation - is also read as an indication of how a power which ne exercises on others. she would like to be treated, if a woman throws a glass on the By contrast, a woman’s presence expresses her floor, this is an example of how she treats her own emotion of anger and so of how she would wish it to be treated by others. own attitude to herself, and defines what can and cannot be done to her. Her presence is manifest in her gestures, voice, Ifa man does the same, his action is only read as an opinions, expressions, c~o~es, chosen surroundings, taste expression of his anger, if a woman makes a good joke this is . ~ndee~ t~ere Js no~hing she can do which does not contribute an example of how she treats the joker in herself and ~ ~. ~o ~e~ presence. Presence for a woman is so intrinsic ~o her accordingly of how she as a jo.ker-woman would like to he :~: i, treated by others. Only a man can make e good joke for its own emanation, a kind of ~eat or smell or aura. sake. One might simplify this by saying : men act and women appear. P, flen |ook at women. Women watch themselves social presence o~ women ~as deveJope~ as a result of their being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to space. ~u~ ~h~s ~as been at ~e cos~ o~ a woman’s self being themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the spg~ Jn~o ~wo. ~ woma, mus~ continually ~a~eh ~erself. surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object - and most pae~icularKy an object of vision: a sight. ~e~self. Wh~s~ she is wa~ing across a room o~ whilst she weepin~ at ~he death of her father, she can scarcely she has been taught and persuaded to survey ~ ~nd so she comes to consider the ;,rveyor and the surveyed within her as the ~o constituent ye~ always dis~inc~ e~eme,ts of her ~den~ity as a woman. " She has ~o survey ever~hing she is and every~hin~ she ~oes because how she appears to others, and ultimately how she appears ~o men, ~s of crucial [mportance for what norma~y thought o~ 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. ~en survey women before treating them. Consequently ~ow a woman appears to a man can ~eterm~ne how she wi~] be ~eated. To acquire some control ove~ this process, women mus~ contain it and interiorize ~t. Tha~ par~ of ~erse~f by herseff ~ons~u~es her presence. Eve~ woman’s 46 In one category of European oil painting women were the principab ever-recurring subject. That category is the nude, In the nudes of Europeen painting we san discover some of the criteria and conventions by which women have been d j dg ight The first nudes in the tradition depicted Adam and Eve. It is worth referring to the story as told in Genesis: And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that itwas a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat, And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig-leaves together and made themselves aprons .... And the 47 Lord God called unto the man and said unto him, ’Where are thou?’ And he said, ’~ heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myse~lf .... Unto the ,,v:~rnan God said, ’ I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in so~’row thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee’. During the Renaissance the narrative sequence disappeared, and the single moment depicted became~the moment of shame. The couple wear fig-leaves or make a so much in relation to one another as to the spectator. What is striking about this story? They became aware of being naked because, as a result of eating the apple, each saw the other differently. Nakedness was created in the mind of the beholder. The second striking fact is that the woman is blamed and is punished by being made subservient to the man. |n relation to the woman, the man becomes the agent of God. in the medieval tradition the story was often illustrated, scene following scene, as in a strip cartoon. Later the shame becomes a kind of display. When the tradition of painting became more secular, other themes also offered the opportunity of painting nudes. But in them all there remains the implication that the subject (a woman) is aware of being seen by a spectator. 48 49 She is not naked as she is. She is naked as the spectator sees her. The mirror was often used as a symbol of the vanity of woman. The moralizing, however, was mostly hypocritical, Often - as with the favourite subject of Susannah and the Eiders - this is the actual theme of the picture. We join the Elders to spy on Susannah taking her bath. She looks back at us looking at her. In another version of the subjeet by Tintoretto, Susannah is looking at herself in a mirror. Thus she joins the spectatorsoof herself. You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, you put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting Vanity, thus morally condemning the woman whose nakednsss you had depicted for your own pleasure. The real function of the mirror was otherwise. |t was to make the woman connive in treating herself as, first and foremost, a sight. The Judgement of Paris was another theme with the same inwritten idea of a man or men looking at naked women. 50 51 But a further element is now added. The element of judgement. Paris awards the apple to the woman he finds most beautiful. Thus Beauty becomes competitive. (Today The ,Judgement of Paris has become the Beauty Contest.) Those who are not judged beautiful are [~ot/~eautifu/. Those who are, are given the prize. The prize is to be owned by a judge - that is to say to be available for him. Charles th ...
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Berger’s Ways of Seeing
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Ways of seeing' is a book composed by John Berger in the mid 1970s, and the paper given to us
for condensing and dissecting is one of seven papers and denotes a noteworthy piece of the
grouping. In this piece of his, Berger concentrates on the way that traditions have perceived the
societal presence of a lady parti...

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