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182 of 202 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A classic that's becoming outdated, November 26, 1999
This review is from: Ways of Seeing: Based on the BBC Television Series (Paperback)
Ways of Seeing is the book of a groundbreaking and brilliant TV series that Berger created with Mike Dibb in the 1970s. The book isn't quite as amazing as the series, but it's acquired canonical status anyway as Berger's most frequently set text on art and art criticism. Which is a pity, because while the impressive confidence of Berger's judgments was inspiring back then (Marina Warner and Michael Ondaatje have each paid tribute to it), time has passed over the last quarter of a century and the book is in danger of looking old-fashioned. The theory of desire, which Berger manages to popularise in a single succinct chapter, has been challenged, confirmed, turned upside-down and generally elaborated upon so much since the book was written that his version of it is now inadequate. Advertising is vastly more sophisticated now than it was in 1972 - the ads reproduced in the book, while perfectly representative of their time, are almost laughable in their blatant sexism and classism. (You wouldn't get away with them now, that's for sure.) But the account of the rise of oil painting is still persuasive, even if it lacks the cheek and mischievousness of the TV version. Readers expecting to find Berger's most incisive and complex criticism should look elsewhere, though, to The Sense of Sight or About Looking, because Ways of Seeing is essentially a popularisation of theories that have since become much more complex, and Berger's lapidary, no-argument tone is hardly applicable anymore. Somebody should release the series on video, then we'd get the same ideas in a more engaging and fascinating manner.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 23, 2011 4:18:10 AM PDT
W. White says:
The series is available on video from the BBC. Re-broadcast on BBC4 in 2002 or so, frame for frame, entirely unaltered (including the 70's computer-futura style titles). For those inclined, the four episode series can be found readily in the P2P-world ("appropriative," ahem). I might also disagree with this reviewer (12 years after the fact) that to fault Berger and the work he did in 1972 on the basis that since then the ideas he presented have been: up/down market, elaborated, expanded, qualified, discredited, reified, re-installed with all-copper plumbing, and thus Ways of Seeing is now 'inadequate' is something like (to overstate things a little) saying that after 2000+ years of the Catholic, Orthodox, and innumerable Protestant Churches the "original work" of Christ is dated. Or Newton. Or Marx (the original statement of the problem, and general direction of the solution are in no meaningful way changed by the failure of state-socialism). This is still powerful stuff, and if we have become more sophisticated and resistant, only proof that Berger's criticisms were apt. And if this is now more appropriately a high school text than one for graduate students, well then, there really is such a thing as progress.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 16, 2011 5:01:44 PM PST
Faithful says:
Very appropriate response, clarifying why this book which I heard of 18 years ago, can still be relative to me today...

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 20, 2012 2:28:58 PM PDT
Nemesis says:
Touché! Well done.
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