John Berger - The Reading List


Ways Of Seeing

I was first introduced to John Berger in my second (I think) year of college. We had to pick a speciality, and then work through our ideas in a sketchbook and read an art theory book. I chose a Fine Art speciality and so was instructed to read Ways of Seeing. Which I did, half-heartedly. Fast forward two years and it's on the reading list at University as part of my Art History lectures. While studying for my degree I read Ways of Seeing at least once a year and I continue to reference it. Berger has a way of writing about art and visual language that is captivating and accessible.

Ways of Seeing is based upon the 1972 TV programme, WHICH IS AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE - LOOK AT THAT HAIR.

This book introduced me to the idea of a photographic essay and how to read paintings. Much of what I sprouted in an essay at uni came from this book, Harvard Referenced and all.

The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled

About Looking

I picked up About Looking to read based purely on the fact that I thought the spines would look nice together on my book shelf (spoiler: they totally do). About Looking almost takes up where Ways of Seeing left off, which is no bad thing. About Looking delves deeper into our perceptions of the world we experience and see. Berger investigates individual cases in selected essays, examining Rodin and sexual domination,

'People say I think too much about women' said Rodin to William Rothenstein. Pause. 'Yet after all, what is there more important to think about?'

As well as the delicate language of painting that Magritte is famed for using, among others.

'I am not a determinist,' wrote Magritte, 'but I don't believe in chance either. It serves as still another 'explanation' of the world.[...]'

About Looking does not need to be read from front to back, the reader is able to pick up and read selected essays' without feeling like they've missed something they should have picked up in the first essay. The opening chapter on looking at animals still amazes me and I've often found myself mulling over the questions he poses.

Both books by Berger could be seen as (and often are) essential reading for cultural and media courses, but also hold relevance to those interested in philosophy and critical thinking. As a writer John Berger is attuned to the basics of human wants and needs, attraction, repulsion et al. He demonstrates a keen eye for those events that have happened around him and ones he has observed from a distance.

When reading either book, the reader is able to find tangents of further investigation, as Berger does reference ideas from Descartes and Rousseau (and more besides).

John Berger is 89 and currently resides in the French Alps, he studied at Chelsea School Of Arts and Central School of Art in London. He is still writing and being published to this day.

BooksErin Veness