Ways of Seeing

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Ways of Seeing
AuthorJohn Berger
Cover artistRené Magritte
SubjectArt, architecture, photography
Publication date

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 series was intended as a response to Kenneth Clark's Civilisation series, which represents a more traditionalist view of the Western artistic and cultural canon, and the series and book criticize traditional Western cultural aesthetics by raising questions about hidden ideologies in visual images.


No. in
TitleOriginal air date
1"Episode 1"8 January 1972 (1972-01-08)
The first part of the television series drew on ideas from Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction arguing that through reproduction an Old Master's painting's modern context is severed from that which existed at the time of its making.
2"Episode 2"15 January 1972 (1972-01-15)
The second film discusses the female nude. Berger asserts that only twenty or thirty nudes in the European oil painting tradition depict a woman as herself rather than as a subject of male idealisation or desire.
3"Episode 3"22 January 1972 (1972-01-22)
The third programme is on the use of oil paint as a means of depicting or reflecting the status of the individuals who commissioned the work of art.
4"Episode 4"29 January 1972 (1972-01-29)
In the fourth programme, on publicity and advertising, Berger argues that colour photography has taken over the role of oil paint, though the context is reversed. An idealised potential for the viewer (via consumption) is considered a substitution for the actual reality depicted in old master portraits.


The book Ways of Seeing was written by Berger and Dibb, along with Sven Blomberg, Chris Fox, and Richard Hollis.[1] The book consists of seven numbered essays: four using words and images; and three essays using only images.[1]

The book has contributed to feminist readings of popular culture, through essays that focus particularly on how women are portrayed in advertisements and oil paintings.[2] "Berger ... has had a profound influence on the popular understanding of art and the visual image," according to sociologists Yasmin Gunaratnam and Vikki Bell.[3]


  1. ^ a b Berger, John (1973). Ways of seeing. London: British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books. ISBN 9780563122449.
  2. ^ Danuta Walters, Suzanna (2001), "Pride and prejudice: the changing context of gay visibility", in Danuta Walters, Suzanna (ed.), All the rage: the story of gay visibility in America, Chicago: Chicago University Press, p. 51-52, ISBN 9780226872322.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  3. ^ "How John Berger changed our ways of seeing art". The Independent. 9 January 2017. Retrieved 14 July 2017.


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