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Ways of Seeing (Penguin Modern Classics) [Paperback]

John Berger
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
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Book Description

25 Sep 2008 Penguin Modern Classics

Based on the BBC television series, John Berger's Ways of Seeing is a unique look at the way we view art, published as part of the Penguin on Design series in Penguin Modern Classics.

'Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.'

'But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but word can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.'

John Berger's Ways of Seeing is one of the most stimulating and influential books on art in any language. First published in 1972, it was based on the BBC television series about which the Sunday Times critic commented: 'This is an eye-opener in more ways than one: by concentrating on how we look at paintings . . . he will almost certainly change the way you look at pictures.' By now he has.

John Berger (b. 1926) is an art critic, painter and novelist.born in Hackney, London.

His novel G. (1972) won both the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Booker Prize.

If you enjoyed Ways of Seeing, you might like Susan Sontag's On Photography, also available in Penguin Modern Classics.

'Berger has the ability to cut right through the mystification of professional art critics ... he is a liberator of images: and once we have allowed the paintings to work on us directly, we are in a much better position to make a meaningful evaluation'

Peter Fuller, Arts Review

'The influence of the series and the book ... was enormous ... It opened up for general attention areas of cultural study that are now commonplace'

Geoff Dyer in Ways of Telling

'One of the most influential intellectuals of our time'


Frequently Bought Together

Ways of Seeing (Penguin Modern Classics) + Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (Vintage Classics) + On Photography
Price For All Three: 18.87

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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (25 Sep 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014103579X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141035796
  • Product Dimensions: 11.1 x 1.3 x 18.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,009 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Berger was born in London in 1926. He is well known for his novels & stories as well as for his works of nonfiction, including several volumes of art criticism. His first novel, "A Painter of Our Time", was published in 1958, & since then his books have included the novel "G.", which won the Booker Prize in 1972. In 1962 he left Britain permanently, & he now lives in a small village in the French Alps.

Product Description

About the Author

John Peter Berger (born November 5th, 1926) is an art critic, painter and novelist.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
235 of 238 people found the following review helpful
How can a paperback book that was first published in 1972 by the British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books still be held in such high esteem by its readers. Could this inexpensive book really have survived the ravages of time? The answer to this later question is evidently yes. Despite its age this book remains on most Cultural and Media studies courses lists of recommended reading and is even compulsory on some.
The book itself is comprised of six independent, and yet linked, essays. The first textual essay opens with the words 'Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak'. This essay sets the scene for all of the following essays. It identifies that we live in a world of visual imagery. Three of the essays are collections of images. Many of these have been stripped of their titles or any explanation as to who or what they represent therefore allowing the spectator to interpret them themselves. Essay number 3 looks at the nude but more importantly how the social presence of a woman is different from that of a man. Essay number 5 looks at art though mainly explores the differences between looking at or seeing a painting and the desire to possess it. It draws on the work of the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss to illustrate this point. It then slowly teaches the reader how to deconstruct an image and goes into great depth to explain how every small detail is an integral part of the final overall reading. The final essay is about publicity. Which is as relevant now as it has ever been. Even in this technologically changing world publicity still uses the past to sell the future.
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88 of 97 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A captivating read 9 April 2005
I went to school in the UK, taking the full range of O and A-levels to go to University.

Looking back, the most memorable book that I read in school was this one.

It lived up to its title and gave me another way of seeing.

So much of school is about preparing people to lead dull 9 to 5 lives in offices, hospitals etc. as if they were working in some 19th century factory.

This book opened the door to creativity and independent thought, something that none of the other textbooks ever did.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
'Ways of Seeing' is a book which some readers may find a bit puzzling. The ads reproduced in its pages look naive to us, in their unsophisticated emphasis on luxury and glamour, and Berger's commentary on advertising may seem a bit simple, but if so it's because he was one of the first and best critics to compare the effects and uses of advertising and fine art. The main difference between him and most contemporary commentators is that Berger had an independent perspective that they lack; his analysis has far more steel and indignation than the work of someone like Peter York, who comments on ads from the insider's perspective of "Is it effective or not?" Berger refuses to be seduced into talking about ads on their own terms. While the specific tactics used in advertising may be different now from what they were when this book was originally published, the basic strategy is still the same as it will ever be: to sell us not a product but a lifestyle.

Anyone who has travelled in a less-well-off country that has a functioning advertising industry (Greece, for instance) will have noticed that billboard ads there tend to be like early 70s ads in richer countries: they promote a dream of luxury, wealth and sophistication. Ads in the UK and Ireland are aimed at people who already think of themselves as reasonably wealthy and sophisticated, and so UK and Irish ads tend to promote an idea of the consumer as being rootsy, down-to-earth, unpretentious, sensible - all the things that we secretly fear we aren't. The tactic is different, but the strategy (to play on the consumer's hopes and fears about what kind of person they are) is the same.

Berger's work is hardly full of undigested chunks of Marxist doctrine, unlike the far more impenetrable and far less useful work of (e.g.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking... 20 Feb 2008
I recently had to read this as the basis for an essay, but was pleasantly surprised. It is an interesting snippet questioning our view of art and if it has changed throughout history. I found a few of the assumptions a little irritating, such as that Reubens would not have been aware of the device of depicting the human body in an anatomically incorrect pose in order to give the impression of movement. (Particularly as this is something that was well known among artists for hundreds of years and had been used by Leonardo da Vinci for example).

However, if you are looking for a thought provoking, unusual look at how images have been used throughout history, give it a go. Its not a long book and some of the chapters are purely visual to allow the viewer to come to their own conclusions.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ways of seeing 6 Dec 2012
By monoli
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bought it to read about photography and was taken by surprise as it is exactly what it says on a tin: book on ways of seeing. the photography is part of it- the way image is created, through its interpretation to the theory of art of seeing it in context. very inspiring little book, eyes opening and what a great way to show the communication between different forms of art and life around us
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars poor quality
the type is smudged in places and the pictures included are not clearly defined, the book looks as though minaturised and detail lost as a consequence
Published 1 month ago by Beverley Eagling
5.0 out of 5 stars 5 out 5
Great book pocket size handy to slip into your bag etc confusing information but if read more than once you will understand it. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Lee-ann
5.0 out of 5 stars a small book with a huge reputation -all of it deserved
This book consists of seven essays - three of them pictorial - that deconstruct our experience of looking at images ranging from art to advertising. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Nigel Marshall
5.0 out of 5 stars very good
i warmly recommend this to all foundation drawing students. it's written in a critical + reflective tone, in a language/prose that is easy to receive by mostly all. Read more
Published 6 months ago by cj
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic photography key text
Used this for my photography end of year essay and it was a great help, with some key quotes from a guy who knows a hell of a lot about photography and art direction etc.
Published 7 months ago by Laura
5.0 out of 5 stars New thoughts.
I loved the content and found its message fascinating. I didn't like its appearance and the combative nature of some views expressed.
Published 9 months ago by Yvonne Keech
3.0 out of 5 stars Small book for such a big subject
This is a good introduction to a very wide subject. John Berger makes one think and he is not afraid to criticise some of the old Masters.
Published 9 months ago by Hunter Devine
3.0 out of 5 stars This is probably a book for students
This is no doubt a good foundation book for those studying visual imagery for the first time, I bought it to help with my hobby which is painting and as I am nearly 60 it was a bit... Read more
Published 10 months ago by J
3.0 out of 5 stars For art students.
A good book for art students to read to introduce them to an unconventional way of looking at the artworld.
Published 10 months ago by Helen
5.0 out of 5 stars Art Students Read This
A very good read.
I would recommend this book to Fine Art students studying Foundation or BA, I'm pretty sure it will be on the reading list anyway.
Published 11 months ago by Apollonia Pulbrook
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