好像在上周一，我決定2月份的"漢清講堂"要紀念 John Berger (1926-2017)。手頭上約有 John Berger的8本書，約是他的著作清單的三分之一強，再加上報紙的訃聞與YouTube上的影片，所以"評介"這位【生生世世是紅色】 (Permanent Red， 先生之一本作品書名)的藝術家 (極廣義的說法；他跟Susan Sontag (1933-2004)在某些領域的文類類似，都有小說、論攝影、藝術評論、公共知識份子.....)。
Drawn to that moment By John Berger (The Sense of Sight, New York: Pantheon Books, 1985, pp.146-151)
When my father died recently, I did several drawings of him in his coffin. Drawings of his head and face.
中譯：引向那個時刻， "加富最近去世，我為躺在棺材裡的他畫了幾幅像。他的面孔與頭的畫像。" (【講故事的人】(The Sense of Sight)北京：三聯，2009，頁186)
# While she is walking across a room or weeping at the death of her father, she cannot avoid envisioning herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she is taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does, because how she appears to others – and particularly how she appears to men – is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life.”
Art critic and writer John Berger, who died yesterday aged 90, spoke these words in the second episode of seminal BBC series Ways of Seeing. Together with a shoestring budget, a shared leftist ideology and a sympathy for the burgeoning women’s movement, he and director Mike Dibb challenged the elitism of arts programming, encouraged their audience to unpick the meanings of paintings rather than simply revere them, and managed to make Walter Benjamin’s ideas about mechanical reproduction digestible in a 30-minute episode. With the series spanning topics including the role of the critic, the way art is constructed for our ‘gazes’, how it depicts women and possessions, and even the way that advertising works, it remains deeply relevant today.
But it’s Berger’s discussion of how we look at women which resonates most strongly in our current image-obsessed society. Today, the idea of the male gaze may seem well established, and Berger and his all-male team didn’t claim to invent the concept which would later be christened by film critic Laura Mulvey. But this was 1972 – the Sex Discrimination Act was still three years away, contraception wasn’t yet covered by the NHS, and it would be almost a decade before women could take out loans in their own names without a male guarantor. And yet, here they were, on one of only three channels on mainstream television, sitting in a group and discussing issues such as agency, empowerment, and their relationships to their own bodies and to men. Of course, not everyone was pleased about it – according to the Guardian, Ways of Seeing was derogatorily compared to Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book “for a generation of art students”.
“The female nude in Western painting was there to feed an appetite of male sexual desire. She existed to be looked at, posed in such a way that her body was displayed to the eye of the viewer”
The ideas put forward by Berger and Dibb, which were later published in a best-selling book created with Sven Blomberg, Chris Fox, and Richard Hollis, were simple but radical. The female nude in Western painting – hairless, buxom, invariably with skin as white and unblemished as a pearl – was there to feed an appetite of male sexual desire. She did not have desires of her own. She existed to be looked at, posed in such a way that her body was displayed to the eye of the viewer, there only to be consumed. Of course, there was hypocrisy in this, too – “You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her,” wrote Berger, “Put a mirror in her...
Why we still need John Berger’s Ways of Seeing
In 1972, the critic opened our eyes with his analysis of the female figure in art and advertising – in today’s frenzied image culture, his lessons are still necessary
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