Ways of Seeing  

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"This is the first of 4 programmes in which I want to question some of the assumptions usually made about the tradition of European painting. That tradition which was born about 1400, died about 1900. Tonight, it isn’t so much the paintings themselves which I want to consider, as the way we now see them."

"Men dream of women. Women dream of themselves being dreamt of. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at." ... "Women constantly meet glances which act like mirrors reminding them of how they look or how they should look." --Ways of Seeing

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Ways of Seeing is a book by John Berger, a companion to the 1972 BBC television series of the same name. Ways of Seeing consists of a series of written and visual essays that raise questions about hidden ideologies in European oil painting of the 15th century until the end of the 19th century and depictions of women in advertisements and oil paintings, which is typical for the then-emergent feminist readings of popular culture. Ways of Seeing is considered to be a seminal text for studies of visual culture and art history.

It starts with the sentence: “Seeing comes before words. The child sees and recognizes before it can speak,” which erroneously stresses the visual component of culture. As David Toop and other have since pointed out, a child hears and feels before it sees.

The work, esp. the first episode 'Painting and the Camera" was in part derived from Walter Benjamin's essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

On the cover is the English version of Magritte's The Key of Dreams.



Ways of Seeing was a 1972 BBC television series created chiefly by writer John Berger and producer Mike Dibb, that led to a book of the same name. The book Ways of Seeing was made by Berger and Dibb, along with Sven Blomberg, Chris Fox, and Richard Hollis. The book consists of seven numbered essays: four using words and images; and three essays using only images.

Response to Civilisation (TV series)

The series and book criticize traditional Western cultural aesthetics by raising questions about hidden ideologies in visual images. The series is partially a response to Kenneth Clark's Civilisation series, which represents a more traditionalist view of the Western artistic and cultural canon.


Ways of Seeing, Part 1: Painting and the Camera

The program starts with Berger taking out a knife and cutting out Venus's face from Botticelli's Mars and Venus. Then there is a voiceover reciting Dziga Vertov's Kinoks Revolution manifesto over footage of Man with a Movie Camera. This episode is in part derived from Walter Benjamin's essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction and is concerned with the effects of mechanical reproduction. It then moves to a discussion of the prime version of Leonardo's Virgin of the Rocks and its authenticity.

Ways of Seeing, Part 2: Painting Nudes and Women

Ways of Seeing, Part 3: Painting and Possessions

Ways of Seeing, Part 4: Painting and Advertising

See also


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