John Berger, Publicity and Denaturalisation

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John Peter Berger (5 November 1926 – 2 January 2017) was an English art critic, novelist, painter and poet. He is best known for his novel G. and his book and BBC series Ways of Seeing. His books’ ideas and arguments (Ways of Seeings and Why Look at Animals which we have chosen for the presentation) are still relevant today. Berger takes us beyond the visible, towards a closer understanding of the world as it really is - capitalism.

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I have chosen two of his books for the presentation including Ways of Seeing (Chapter 7) and Why Look at Animals. John Berger is questioning about the social mechanism which is the capitalism nowadays. The topics we are going to discuss are the publicity and denaturalisation, the products of capitalism. First, how capitalism lead to publicity and denaturalization. Secondly, how publicity and denaturalization affect us. In his arguments, he teaches and equips us not to fall into the trap of the publicity. As well as to let us get aware of the denaturalisation in modern consumer age. In the last chapter of Ways of Seeing, he departs from his discussion of art history to deal with a strictly contemporary phenomenon: the advertisement. Even at the time of his writing nearly fifty years ago, there were already a concentration of images, such a density of visual messages around us. According to Berger, marketing images are always about the future, never about the present. Selling something is about creating a desire for the future. In many ways advertising doesn’t sell product itself but envy and desire. In order to own the fantasy that the product has created, there is an exchange of money, and the exchange is the point of the image. Capitalism needs such constant exchanges and that advertising creates the desires that fuel these exchanges is the open secret of our society. One of the supporting artists is Pop Artist Nelson De La Nuez, who is also known as the king of pop art. There is a fundamental relationship between pop art and advertising. Pop artists “embrace the encroachments on art by media arts such as advertising, comics, film, and television, and packaging while examining their visual language, their exercise of power and their language”. Only in the context of social and cultural values can Pop art be understood and appreciated. In Nelson De La Nuez, most of his works are playful yet sophisticated luxury themes about cocktails on a yacht, flying first class, shoe shopping, Wall Street markets or incorporating brands such as Chanel and Hermes. His works present the ultimate fantasy and glamour.

His works constantly sell at the prestigious art shows including Miami Art Basel; SCOPE/Context, Art Market Hamptons, Art Houston, Art Palm Springs and many more. 'The shows are very lucrative and curated only for galleries. De La Nuez's values have steadily increased over the years and his collectors love to see the art in person and be the first to buy it,' explains Lurie. 'I will always bring Nelson's art and count on it selling out at this show. He has a big following of collectors and celebrities that collect his work and come to see what's here, or what they can order of his to add to their collections,' comments Bruce, the owner of the gallery located at 2736 S La Cienega in Los Angeles. His artwork is hanging in some of the most prominent, private collections of movie stars, directors, producers, comedians, corporations and art connoisseurs. His art has been featured on countless television and luxury interior design shows/celebrity homes. As his paintings are owned by the upper class, therefore, having these also represent having a high social status and a good life. In the Why Look at Animals? He explained the contemporary phenomenon: the denaturalization. According to Berger, animals have lost their magical, ritual value; they have, like humans themselves, been reduced to economic units in capitalist society. And he also argued that with very little real contact of animals, humans have made up an idea out of a wild animal.

Damien Hirst is one of the example, he has shocked and surprised the art world with his unusual works, including glass displays of dead animals and medicine cabinet sculptures. His work, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living,1991, is an artwork that consists of a tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde in a vitrine. This was funded by Charles Saatchi, who in 1991 had offered to pay for whatever artwork Hirst wanted to create. The shark itself cost Hirst £6,000 and the total cost of the work was £50,000. The shark was caught off Hervey Bay in Queensland, Australia, by a fisherman commissioned to do so. Saatchi sold the work in 2004 to Steven A. Cohen for an estimated $8 million. It is completely isolated from its natural setting, instead of being in motion, in the water, we see it completely frozen and preserved. For most, it may be the first time to have a direct experience of the shark, as most of the people only see them on television or perhaps at an aquarium. This artwork is one of the examples reflecting the capitalist condition nowadays which rationalize the selling and killing of animals (even for the extinct one), using an animal as an idea for an artwork. Thus, reinforce and promote the denaturalisation in the capitalist world.

In conclusion, I use the artworks of Nelson De La Nuez as one of the examples on Berger’s analysis of the advertisement. The luxury and pop theme artworks of Nelson De La Nuez are the tip of an iceberg of imagery which makes its way into our brains via social media, television, luxury interior design shows, magazine adverts and celebrity homes etc. It is built on selling a life ideal. Berger helped to kickstart a quiet revolution in the way we view the world around us. He encouraged us to question the images which have been the foundation of our culture and not to fall into the trap of the advertisement. At the same time, I have used the The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991 by Damien Hirst as the example on Berger’s arguments of the denaturalization. Animals once were our unspeaking companionship, however, they have turned into the products, ideas, display in the zoo and even artworks in the capitalist human world. What Berger wants the public get aware is the loss of a meaningful connection to nature, a connection that can now only be rediscovered through the experience of beauty.

References

  1. Beger, J. (1972). Ways of Seeing. London: British Broadcasting Corporation., pp.129-154.
  2. Berger, J. (2009). Why Look at Animals?. London: Penguin.
  3. Biography. (2019). Damien Hirst. [online] Available at: https://www.biography.com/artist/damien-hirst [Accessed 10 Oct. 2019].
  4. Eco, U. (1989). Lowbrow Highbrow, Highbrow Lowbrow. In Mashun, C. A. (Ed.), Pop art. The critical dialogue (pp. 225-231). Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press.
  5. Gallery, B. (2019). Pop Artist Nelson De La Nuez, the King of Pop Art, Highlighted at LA Art Show 2019 by Bruce Lurie Gallery. [online] Prnewswire.com. Available at: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/pop-artist-nelson-de-la-nuez-the-king-of-pop-art-highlighted-a t-la-art-show-2019-by-bruce-lurie-gallery-300781380.html [Accessed 10 Oct. 2019].
  6. En.wikipedia.org. (2019). John Berger. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Berger [Accessed 10 Oct. 2019].
  7. Nuez, N. (2019). Nelson De La Nuez, The King of Pop Art, Releases New Art, Celebrating the Right to Gay Marriage at Palm Springs Fine Art Show. [online] Prnewswire.com. Available at: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/nelson-de-la-nuez-the-king-of-pop-art-releases-new-art-celeb rating-the-right-to-gay-marriage-at-palm-springs-fine-art-show-300034070.html [Accessed 10 Oct. 2019].
  8. Stanska, Z., Stanska, Z., Phillips, I. and Phillips, I. (2019). The Story Of Damien Hirst's Famous Shark - DailyArtMagazine.com - Art History Stories. [online] DailyArtMagazine.com - Art History Stories. Available at: https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/story-damien-hirst-shark/ [Accessed 10 Oct. 2019].
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