A few hints in working with Berger:
1) Berger believes that people orient themselves through the visual world far more than they do with language. (“Seeing comes before words.”) When you see a beautiful sunset, you don’t come in and describe it with words to your friend; instead, you take them out to see for themselves, because your words will never capture the sunset.
2) If Berger is right, then the best way we can learn about our past and our history is through the visual history, which, before the invention of the camera, is captured better through art than through written descriptions of historical matters.
3) Berger believes that the art of the past was wed to the place it was located: the homes of the very rich and in churches. Thus, people grew to believe that art belonged only to the elite or to the “holy.” Thus, only the rich and representatives of the church were able to interpret history, or, rather, the peasants and the poor surrendered that interpretation of history to the rich and spiritual; thus, they fell further under their power.
4) Berger believes that the invention of the camera and the ability to reproduce art should have changed everything: now we could see art away from it’s original home, no longer framed by the wealthy and holy. Instead, what has taken the place of churches and homes are museums, which, for most, are like churches (see Berger’s chart.) and the extraordinarily high amounts of money being spent on the art.
5) Most people aren’t interested in going to museums, and almost no one can afford to buy art works. Thus, the interpretation of history still lies with the rich and the highly educated; the rest of are uninterested, and so we continue to be controlled by the rich and powerful
6) Think carefully about this sentence taken from the final paragraph of Berger’s essay: “A people or a class that is cut off from its past is far less free to act as a people or class than one that has been able to situate itself in history”. Berger is arguing that our disinterest in art, orchestrated by the rich and educated, has taken our history away from us, and left us under the control of others.
Begin to offer your insights into John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing, and ask questions, but don’t make them so general that no one can respond.
( half paper )