I write this with full awareness that I am not the most knowledgable of all Berger’s work. But I do study him. In fact, he is the most discussed cultural theorist in my university course. His book, Ways of Seeing, is referenced in almost all of my academic writing. His work is relevant to so many areas I have interest in within my university course. I also believe his work is interesting, and relevant to the mainstream, and worth reading from many perspectives.
Involved in the movement of redefining our understandings of ‘culture’, and other concepts not seen as important in society before him, Berger was a radical thinker. He rejected culture as ‘high brow’. He drew attention to things no one else had the confidence to think. The female nude is used as a sales technique. Ownership of oil paintings was to demonstrate wealth and any waffle about wisdom behind them was used to cover up this fact. The reproduction and accessibility of paintings changes their meaning; they are no longer wondrous and unobtainable when they are sitting on your television screen in the comfort of your living room.
He brought new arguments to art, modern arguments, questioning what no one else had, making ordinary what no one had dared do before.
What I have studied most in Berger’s work is his thoughts on seeing, gaze, reading our surroundings. An artists perception can be seen in his work, “every image embodies a way of seeing”, and this is altered further by our own perception, our own way of seeing. These thoughts on seeing in different contexts, how what we see is influenced by assumptions have somehow crept their way into many of my essays. But for good reason.
Feminism, photography and art are among topics Berger opened up debate to. His inspiring new ideas, however radical, will continue to influence many. For as long as these topics are studied, his work will continue to have a place. I have only been studying cultural studies for just over a year, and Berger has already influenced my thoughts greatly. I hope to continue to learn from him, and I hope others get to do the same.
A great mind was sadly lost today. Rest in peace John Berger.