Recommendation: Ways of Seeing

Way back in March, when H and I were visiting a Lucien Freud exhibition in Dublin, one of the rooms had televisions showing a discussion between a number of women about what ‘the nude’ represents in the history of Western art. (Spoiler: nothing good, basically.) And one or two of the phrases that one of the women stuck in my mind enough for me to hit Google when I got back to the hotel, and find out what the programme was.

It turned out to be Ways of Seeing, a British documentary from 1972 that is recognised as one of the great documentary series on art.

And why is it so great? Well, it’s basically presenter John Berger calling bullshit on a good deal of supposed high art, but giving really clear and well argued reasons why. He explains how so much of what supposedly makes this art so much better than all the other art is really just nothing more than clever PR from a few hundred years ago. And he also lucidly demonstrates that the same bullshit PR machine is basically in action in modern culture today.

Ways of Seeing looks very 70s, but the content is as relevant as ever. Trust me, it’s brilliant.


Current Favourite Thing:
The ending of Episode 2 particularly, that I overheard in that gallery, where a group of women talk about how weird and alienating the nudes in oil painting are. Oh, and Berger’s famous quote: 

You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting “Vanity,” thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for you own pleasure.