John Berger: Understanding His Artwork

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John Berger is a remarkable man who enlighten us with his knowledge using one of his brilliant essays “Ways of Seeing.” Berger has concurred the ability to fully understand any artwork and to recognize what is visible before him. He clarifies that there is a variance between observing an artwork and seeing the art thus when we see art, we realize that there is something beyond the artwork, rather than only glancing at it. However, we may think that since we have the technology, it is good that art is readily accessible to us but because of technology, the original meaning of the art can be changed. 

For instance, when we take a photograph of a painting, we are given the opportunities to crops, enlarge, edit, stink or even change the colors of the painting. However, with those opportunities, the original meaning of the painting will be ruined, and the meaning will be changed to want we want rather than what the painter wants. Another vital aspect is the setting of the painting, for example, if we see a girl wearing a shirt with a print of a famous painter, we would not see the painting the way the painter wants to see it, similar as if we walk into a gallery with stunning artwork, the experience will not be the same as looking at it on the internet. From the internet, after all the editing, we may have an entire new understanding of the same painting.

In Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks, that was accomplished in 1942 is one of the most famous American painting in the 20th century. The Nighthawks gave us the insight of the 1940s American urban culture, however we are still left looking from the outside. From the painting, we can see clearly see into the diner with the people sitting on the stools, but we are left with a mystery since we do no know who the people were or who the counterman is looking at or having a conversation with. 

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Despite the mystery, we can all create our understanding, for instance. We can say that the man and woman is a couple, and they just went out for a drink, the other guy is feeling lonely, maybe he had a dreadful day or even that he is a regular customer who only there to grab a drink and relax after an exhausting day at work. 

After those assumptions, is that how Edward Hopper want his work to be seen? Remembering what John Berger shared with us, we can’t help but to wonder if our assumptions aren’t mystifying the past. The painting was based off a real diner, so who are we to assume that the characters inside aren’t also based on real people? Oates’ poem paints us a picture with words rather than paint. She shares with us her understanding, and if we choose to agree with it, most of our questions would be answered. But, we are still left wondering if John Berger would agree that Oates’ truly saw the painting rather than looked at the painting.

In La Moustache film, the struggle between the characters their realities were exciting. For instance, when Marc slowly started losing his identity, the people around him, and his life, we did not know what he battling, we don’t know if it was madness, a mid-life crisis, or if his realities truly are being swayed by a higher power. Whatever was happening to Marc in the film was missing, and so we ask ourselves what would Berger think of it? Berger might say that this film was untidy, with not real finality because that is how the author wanted it to be. 

The author of La Moustache did not tell us whether Marc truly had a mustache or if we were just watching glimpses of Marc’s illusions. However, throughout the film, the mystery never died out for example, the missing photos, the jacket, the cigarette, the dead father, which was all added fuel to the mystery, never allowing it to die but Instead of trying to find an answer to the mystery, we should ask ourselves if the author didn’t purposely leave the mystery open-ended. Perhaps, the author wanted us to use our own knowledges, thoughts, and perception to decide on the answer.

All the artwork, photographs, film, poems, music, and much more which we view and understand was impacted by John Berger. Berger educated us that taught us to see past the appearance of things, past the visible, and he gives us the tools necessary to truly understand things in the way the author would have wanted. Berger also taught us how an author’s artwork could be destroyed and how to better preserve the author’s intentions. His outlook on life and his ability to truly see, is a valuable talent necessary to humanity. 

However, if we had looked at Edward Hopper’s painting rather than seeing it, we would say that painting is just a diner with people inside. Without the ability to see, we would not be gifted with the wonderful poem by Oates or the amazing music of Tom Waits. We must ask ourselves what else we were gifted by people who were able to truly see. We create art from our experiences and inspirations, morphing them all with our own perspectives, the results are something amazing, a great mixture of humanity.  

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John Berger: Understanding His Artwork. (2022, February 23). WritingBros. Retrieved May 28, 2024, from
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