Customer Reviews: About Looking
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HALL OF FAMEon 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.
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on April 1, 2005
This is a romantic view of art with leftist references. It is about the way we perceive things visually, in various contexts. He uses photographs and painted works primarily but ends the book by describing how we might view a field. Different sociological and psychological factors will temper what we interpret what we are seeing.

Berger writes in a style that I enjoy, descriptive and without concern for the grammatical structure that the nuns taught me in elementary school. That is not to say it is poorly written, Berger does take some license with proper English. Still the florid prose is very entertaining to me.

I agree with the political concerns that the author has but I do have a problem with his presentation. In particular he discusses the uses of visual images for propaganda and how art was manipulated by Nazi Germany. This is true but then he describes how art can be used to promote socially progressive ideology. In my own opinion propaganda is propaganda whether it is from the left or the right of the political spectrum.

A second issue I take with this author is that he takes some pretty fanciful leaps in his determination of what some artistic ploy means. He described a series of sculptures that would be placed next to a wall. One side of the sculptures was flat. He determined that this was not due to their inevitable placement but to some other factor.

My last issue has to do with presentation. Berger makes a lot of assumptions that are personal. They are undoubtedly a result of a lot of thinking, reading and discussing art. I do not necessarily think they are wrong. He does however, assume that he is correct. Several times this occurred when I was unable to see from his perspective at all. I think that suggestions and fanciful leaps can be appropriate in an art criticism reading. I suggest that the points would reach home more readily if they were phrased ala "...perhaps we could suggest..., or ...maybe one way of interpreting the form is..." Berger instead uses polemic type phrasing such as "undoubtedly this is a result of..."

For an interesting perspective, some historical information and thought provoking suggestions this is a very good read.
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on February 7, 2012
Berger is insightful and intense. A wonderful read and necessary dissection of modern art. A true learning experience. Full of deep thought provoking essays.
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on August 31, 2012
If you are a photographer or aspiring Photographer, this book is a must read. It make visualization into a science rather than an art.
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on November 4, 2015
great price and quality
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on February 26, 2015
Love it!
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on July 18, 2015
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on July 5, 2015
Crappy when it comes down to it. How can you decide for someone what it's fine to see?
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on November 30, 2008
There are some great observations in here, if you can wade through the subjective hoo-ha. You might want to pick up a beret to wear while you read this.
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on August 19, 2002
Please please read this book. You will not regret it. Every essay is an eye opener and get you to really rethink your world-view.
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