Ways of Seeing
Ways of Seeing by John Berger provides new insights into the way we perceive art. To begin with, the discourse touches the issue of the relationship between people and realia they face, i. e. dependence of what we see on our belief system or background knowledge, relation to time and space, “our own observation of people, gestures, faces, institutions” (p. 14) etc. Hence, one image may obtain new content within apprehension by different individuals. In addition, this is facilitated by the phenomenon of reproduction. Reproduction is target-oriented, thus the meaning of the painting may be changed in order to conform with certain demands or adjust to a specific purpose. With the invention of a camera multiplicity of the reproduction has increased. Nevertheless, the original preserves its uniqueness due to rarity, descent and genuineness of the painting. Furthermore, the author dwells upon such concepts as mystification, perspective, etc. providing a wide range of illustrative material. Last but not least, art itself is regarded to become inheritance of politics, commerce and market. Art has never been so close, commonplace and available.
The following quotations arouse a particular interest. “We never look just at one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves.” (p. 9). Indeed, people tend to project things seen onto themselves drawing parallels between the image and their personal state, feelings, experience etc. Statement that “the way original works of art are usually approached [...] is not the only way they might be approached” sounds appealing since it rejects one-dimensional perception and trite established patterns encouraging individualism and variety of views (p. 30). In other words, we see what we want and this “refracted” vision cannot be eradicated.
Coming to a conclusion, the author claims that if a new language of images were used differently, it would obtain a different type of power (p. 33). So my question is what is meant by “a new language” and how it may change the state of affairs.
I have decided to pick out my credit card as an object, and my home, a shopping centre and a bank as three places for analysis. A credit card is not just a piece of plastic with numbers on it. It saves your money, it gives you access to it almost everywhere, it enables you to have billions in your pocket. Isn't it amazing? What would be regarded as a privilege yet several decades ago, is now considered to be a matter of convenience and necessity. But do I treat my credit card the same way in different places and life situations? Let me answer this question in descending order of importance.
So, I am in the bank. Feeling of responsibility is in my veins, as if I have to accomplish a secret mission. Respectability, seriousness and moderation is in the air. People wearing formal clothes, complicated financial terminology and a thought that I have to put my signature soon creates a slight feeling of tension. I revise silently in my mind if I haven't forgotten anything: ID card, credit card, consciousness. Naturally, I pay special attention to my credit card, since it may be either a purpose of my actions, or its object, or at least it fits perfectly the associative array money — bank — ATM — credit card.
Now I am killing my time window-shopping. I am gliding at ease through the space of trendy shops, book stores, pharmacies. Contented women are passing by with shopping bags, bored men are waiting reluctantly eating donuts, noisy kids try to drag their parents into a toy store. I feel carefree, light-heartedly and breezy. I don't think about my credit card that much (though I check if my wallet is in the bag/ pocket to be on the safe side), but I have it with me. I may spot something interesting, drop into the shop and buy a book, for example. Even if I haven't planned it.
Finally, home sweet home. A place where I my wear my favorite blue shorts with yellow ducks, sing in the shower and watch TV lying on the floor. Without a twinge of remorse or embarrassment. Because this is where I feel safe, cozy and warm. It seems that the fridge is bottomless, the Internet is unlimited and you may live here forever. At home I don't think about my credit card at all (unless I receive a huge bill or get really trapped). Feeling home is priceless. For everything else there's MasterCard.
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