Ways of Seeing by John Berger
Chapter 3- Notes.
- The presence of a man and woman are not equal conventionally
- Man’s presence is related to his POWER and is directed at OTHERS
- A woman’s to her OWN SELF and what can be done to her.
- Women are surveyed by men and to maintain some control, women also survey themselves.
- A woman’s identity is split into two- the surveyor and the surveyed.
- Women treat the surveyed part as they would want to be treated by others
- Men ‘act’, women ‘appear’
- The nude in European painting tells us something about how women have been seen in the past
- In Genesis, man and women became ‘naked’ due to their changed consciousness after the apple incident
- God punished the woman, by making her serve the man.
- This story was painted in medaevil times-the shame was about each other
- By Renaissance times the shame was with respect to the viewer.
- When secular painting began nudes other than adam and eve were painted , but always being Looked at by the viewer.
What changed in society such that now the viewer is important? Does the ‘adam’ character leave the picture and view the eve character (the nude?)
- Often the woman was watched as part of the narrative of the picture eg. Susannah and the elders
- Sometimes she looks in a mirror ( thus views herself also)….
- In The Judgement of Paris women are not just looked at, but judged..like a beauty contest. The winner becomes the prize, the losers are not beautiful……… ….
- Interestingly, other non-European art traditions do not have the women passive and looked at. They are instead engaged in sex activities with the same engagement as the man.
- As opposed to nakedness, the nude seems to be a conventionalised view of women. It started with painting and art (Kenneth Clarke thought it a ‘form of art’) but can also be seen in media like photo’s and magazines, and also relates to Real sexuality today.
- The author states that to be a nude is to be on display, seen as an object, which can be used as an object. This is different to nakedness.
- In each nude painting we have a viewer who is unseen, clothed, and male.
- Nudes are displayed sexually to this viewer, and they are passive, having little sexuality themselves
- The absence of body hair helps to pacify the women sexually, as it is a sign of sexuality and passion.
- Sometimes the nude has a lover in the picture, but she usually looks out at the viewer, ignoring the lover-presenting her Front to the viewer-it flatters him.
- Again- this is European art- it’s different for other cultures.
- There are a few exceptions to this story of nudes. There are paintings showing a women naked and engaging with a man in the picture-not the viewer.
- Berger asks about the function of nakedness
- A large part of the answer is sexual – we see the naked body and want to have it.
- ‘their nakedness acts as a confirmation and provokes a very strong sense of relief ‘…….’we are overwhelmed by the marvellous simplicity of the sexual mechanism’ (Berger, 1972 p.59)
- The woman who may have had subtlety and mystery before ( her hair, eyes, her face are part of her personality-a complicated thing, her face is certainly unique) suddenly becomes like all the rest!
- Berger thinks this levelling out as we view the breasts and genitals is a relief because everything is geared towards one thing SEX, and that Ground’s us in reality.
This is rather a complicated page but has some good ideas……. Berger’s argument seems to rely on the ‘subtlety of expression of non sexual parts cf sexual ones, but are not also the breasts and genitals less ‘unique’ in their form, or at least our ability to distinguish between different ones? Perhaps this explains the feeling too…
- Berger links the previous discussion to the difficulty of making an expressive painting or photo of a naked woman (as opposed to the conventionalised nude).
- The instantaneous look of nudity before sex/love is banal-because it is a transition between the more subtle expressivities of both the woman’s character , and the mutual act of lovemaking. Making it a conventionalised fantasy is an easy remedy.
- Ruben’s painting of his wife is discussed as transcending this problem of banal nakedness through
- The robe is falling away and concealing therefore there is a more dynamic sense of time (transcending the single instant)
- Details such as the dishevelled hair, and the fat on her legs…-which are personal not conventional (admitting subjectivity)
- The painting contains a formal break between the upper and lower body- it does not ‘work’ visually. This element of subjectivity- perhaps he was overcome with emotion when painting these bits !- transcends the conventional…(admitting subjectivity).
- there is an irony and a contradiction in the nude-it represented the extreme individualism of the artist, yet treated women as if they were all the same.
- women still survey themselves in the 20th and 21 st centuries- doing what men have always done.
- The nude has become uncommon in contemporary art. The change in attitude can be seen in Manet’s Olympia-compared to eg. Titian’s. She is a prostitute who seems to be at odds with the role she plays.
- The idea of prostitutes was a strong one in the early 20th C in many artists.
- the essential role of women as the ‘looked upon’ has not changed much however.