About Looking

by John Berger

ISBN: 0394739078

I was eager to read more of Berger after reading Ways of Seeing. That was a collection of essays that had more of a point to make than these do, at least taken as a whole. Individual essays in this collection have their issues to (sometimes pointedly) address — the way animals are used and marginalized within industrialized cultures, the value of “primitive” art, artists working against the tradition of oil painting — but these do not come together to create a new whole in the way that the pieces in Ways of Seeing did. While this was a bit of a disappointment, I suppose it was a false expectation on my part.

I came away from reading this book with three different things, and I think these are things that would be true for nearly any reader (the following may not apply to folks with a considerable knowledge of or background in art/art history):

1) Berger knows his art and I don’t, so I learned many things about artistic movements in general and artists in particular.

2) The more I read about art, and read about an individual’s struggle with, interpretation of, or explanation for a work of art, the more ways I have to begin thinking about or writing about art on my own. I suspect that reading Berger in particular is likely to lead to or reinforce a sense that permission is not needed, and degrees are not a requirement, for this kind of thinking and writing.

3) Berger introduced me to at least two artists whose work I’d never heard of and that I’m interested in finding out more about: painter Gilles Aillaud and photographer Garry Winogrand.

The copy of the book I have I picked up at a used bookstore, so I doubt it is the most recent printing of the book. That said, all the images appear grainy, with small dots as you would expect to find with an image in a newspaper. This means you can see enough to get the idea that Berger is talking about when he refers to the photograph or painting, but only the idea, the suggestion, of what it must really look like. I hope other editions of the book offer higher print quality.

Recommended if you are interested in art and would like your information filtered through a personal perspective, rather than a so-called objective presentation of facts.

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