Ways of Seeing: The way I saw it
John Berger’s first chapter puts into discussion the function of context in the way we see things, and its capability to change an individual’s perspective.
Reading about these ideas applied to visual artifacts has indeed opened my eyes. Specifically the topic on mass reproduction of images where Berger discusses that the ability to reproduce works of art means that art is experienced in a decontextualized manner and in turn, ‘mystifying’ the image. Since all art are subjective, and there is no medium that can transfer all of the artist or designer’s intent, there will always be some level of mystification. I realize that the same can be said for music. Take for instance, the murder of John Lennon. Mark David Chapman took the context of several Beatles songs, as a personal mission to kill Lennon. Sadly and ironically killing one of the most prolific and creative ambassadors for peace and harmony in the world.
Further complicating matters is the concept of how the same picture viewed by many different people can carry many different messages to each of them. Berger argues that there are a lot of elements that influence our interpretations of what we see such as knowledge, ideas, and assumptions. An example of this is to look at historical works of art. In our modern age, we can never view a work of art as it once was in the day it was produced because we are bringing all our modern-day ideas and assumptions as we view the art.
Before this, I was unaware of the significant impact context had on our perceptions. Though I experienced several “what did I just read?” moments in the introduction of ‘Ways of Seeing’, I still found the information fascinating. I learned that context is everything. To overcome our individual bias against a piece of art, we should not just examine the visual and audible appeal but also the influence it has on our lives.