John Berger (19262017)
he helped form a generation for whom he made it possible to discover a different, critical way of seeing
Date Written: 06/01/2017
Year Published: 2017
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX20201
John Berger's revolutionary insistence was that our reality could be seen differently, and altered by our intervention.
John Berger powerfully examined the way we view the world. But as for many people of my generation, who were captivated by his epoch-making television series on art Ways of Seeing , it is his manner of speaking that first comes to mind.
He spoke quietly, conversationally, with a tendency to poetic metaphors that made surprising, unexpected connections between art and other human activities. It was the same voice that you heard in his later writings a seductive invitation to think and look together. It was the complete opposite of what until then we might have recognized as the voice of the art critic sonorous, authoritative, and obviously the possessor of secrets available only to small selected groups. (That had been the tone of Kenneth Clarks series Civilisation , broadcast a few years before Berger, whose implicit suggestion was that the critics unique gaze was privileged and exclusive.)
Berger, in that quiet way, unraveled the concept of civilization as a museum of great works into which we might be occasionally admitted to admire and gasp. Art, he told us, was not in the frame but in the space between the object and the observer, a contested area where inherited values, prejudices, and expectations, like fragments of glass, refract and divert our gaze.