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How little we appreciate visually
on March 15, 2001
Most of what our eyes take in is filtered, as we cannot process all that is within the field of our vision. Were there no limits, sleep would be required for the vast majority of each 24-hour period. Our brain provides filters that allow selective acknowledgement or perhaps isolated concentration on those visual cues that we deem important.
Mr. John Berger's book, "About Looking", will radically change your perception of what you see.
Much of the book is dedicated to explaining how various artists' works should be visually understood, what a casual viewer would observe as opposed to someone who is trained in art. I have generally found the long-winded, affected, and pretentious descriptions of art by "Art Experts" to be ridiculous at best and coma inducing more the norm. As Mr. Berger takes you through various artists and how he "sees" their work the language can still seem a bit affected, but as you read, this man uses the words he needs. To suggest he is affecting his explanations would be a petty way to express one's ignorance. Read what he says, and you will see things, as you have not before.
I enjoyed the entire book, however the essays, "Why Look At Animals, and, Uses of Photography", were of greatest interest. They went beyond the explanation of expanding the methods of how the visual can be expanded and included History, Anthropology, and Sociology as well. Many people find zoos artificial, perverse, or even fraudulent. When you read this man's explanation of Animals, our relationships to them over time and how we see them, and they us, regardless of what you now feel you will feel differently.
The same is true in his essay on photography. The science is relatively new, the use and invasion of the camera has become something so common the practice of using a camera is barely noticed. There are the occasional eruptions over privacy, surveillance, and "Big Brother", but those that suggest we are not already a society who have given up much of their privacy, are deluding themselves. Mr. Berger does not just opine on the subject. Court cases, the use of the camera in all its incarnations is explored more deeply than a casual look would suggest there is material to talk about.
This is not a book by a shallow charlatan picking off a couple of quick tricks that make you say hmmmmmmm. He does show that even when the filtered information arrives we see very little of what reaches us; we rarely gain the benefit of all the information. He demonstrates how a bit of inquisitiveness can make what seems ordinary spectacularly special.