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About Looking by John Berger
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About Looking (original 1980; edition 2009)

by John Berger (Author)

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756323,152 (4.03)2
As a novelist, art critic, and cultural historian, Booker Prize-winning author John Berger is a writer of dazzling eloquence and arresting insight whose work amounts to a subtle, powerful critique of the canons of our civilization. In About Looking he explores our role as observers to reveal new layers of meaning in what we see. How do the animals we look at in zoos remind us of a relationship between man and beast all but lost in the twentieth century? What is it about looking at war photographs that doubles their already potent violence? How do the nudes of Rodin betray the threats to his authority and potency posed by clay and flesh? And how does solitude inform the art of Giacometti? In asking these and other questions, Berger quietly -- but fundamentally -- alters the vision of anyone who reads his work.… (more)
Member:rglrkn
Title:About Looking
Authors:John Berger (Author)
Info:Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (2009), Edition: UK ed., 224 pages
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About Looking by John Berger (1980)

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Move over, Wendell Berry, John Berger is my new favorite antique Luddite. And, like many of the authors I fall for, he's dead, which is more On Brand than you, Berry, who are still alive. Must be the healthful Kentucky air. Not that I mind; I still have hope of running away to apprentice myself to you and spend my days in those glowing green rolling fields and my nights pecking away at a typewriter, shocking all with my breathtakingly beautiful prose and living out the peak of my ideals. This review is not about you, Mr. Berry, or my escapist daydreams.
I suppose writing a book called "About Looking" (2011) is the natural sequel after releasing a TV series titled "Ways of Seeing" (1972). The content was pleasingly specific, though, in comparison to the series' general appeal and wide range.
"Ways of Seeing" was a crash course in lit theory, was a slightly dated (and therefore gloriously costumed) introduction to the same ideas I had in my 2015 theory class that I took from a woman who thought she knew everything and to which I responded with a mixture of curiosity and anger that came from me also thinking I knew everything. Its four parts were worthwhile, not original but useful collections of other theorists' work compiled for the television audience, and if I had more confidence in sharing interests with my friends, I would certainly have recommended it.
"About Looking" is increasingly more specific, in the shape of essays which examine methods of looking and how certain artists have turned observation into art, and has served to me as an introduction to art history and theory. It starts with an essay that made me reconsider owning pets, "Why look at animals?” which sheds light on the relationship between man and animal, which is frequently too close for objectivity, “a companionship offered to the loneliness of man as a species.” Berger places our relation to animals at the beginning of our other cultural discoveries, including painting, metaphor, possibly language. From this beginning, (attempting not to spoil the rewards reaped from the development and growth of the essay on the incredibly tiny chance anyone would both read this and then go on to ready the essay), Berger examines how in reducing animals we have taken away our ability to see them as capable of independence, identity, and their own observation.
From there follow two series of essays, on more abstract concepts of photography and individual artists. I would not read art history in any way other than this personal examination of the work of different artists. The final stroke, “Field,” is almost abstract in its execution and religious in its intent. This book would also have worked well as a larger paperback with exuberant glossy inserts full of the mentioned works, but as it was, it gave my phone’s search function a use, for once. ( )
  et.carole | Jan 21, 2022 |
More on the semiotics of art, photography, visual perception. John Berger is an excellent writer; his books are persuasive, thought-provoking and easy to read. ( )
  deckla | Jun 3, 2018 |
Excellent ( )
  marstokyo | May 2, 2007 |
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As a novelist, art critic, and cultural historian, Booker Prize-winning author John Berger is a writer of dazzling eloquence and arresting insight whose work amounts to a subtle, powerful critique of the canons of our civilization. In About Looking he explores our role as observers to reveal new layers of meaning in what we see. How do the animals we look at in zoos remind us of a relationship between man and beast all but lost in the twentieth century? What is it about looking at war photographs that doubles their already potent violence? How do the nudes of Rodin betray the threats to his authority and potency posed by clay and flesh? And how does solitude inform the art of Giacometti? In asking these and other questions, Berger quietly -- but fundamentally -- alters the vision of anyone who reads his work.

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As a novelist, art critic, and cultural historian, Booker Prize-winning author John Berger is a writer of dazzling eloquence and arresting insight whose work amounts to a subtle, powerful critique of the canons of our civilization. In About Looking he explores our role as observers to reveal new layers of meaning in what we see. How do the animals we look at in zoos remind us of a relationship between man and beast all but lost in the twentieth century? What is it about looking at war photographs that doubles their already potent violence? How do the nudes of Rodin betray the threats to his authority and potency posed by clay and flesh? And how does solitude inform the art of Giacometti? In asking these and other questions, Berger quietly — but fundamentally — alters the vision of anyone who reads his work.
(Penguin Books)
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