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ENGL 205 Nelson  

Last Updated: Mar 7, 2017 URL: http://sdmiramar.libguides.com/ENGL205-Nelson Print Guide RSS Updates

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Your Assignment

Questions for John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing”-taken from Ways of Reading, by David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky

 Question for a Second Reading

1.         Berger says, “The past is never there waiting to be discovered, to be recognized for exactly what it is.  History always constitutes the relation between a present and its past” (p. 136-in the 7th edition; it is located beneath the list of assumptions:  beauty, truth, genius, etc).  And he says, “If we ‘saw’ the art of the past, we would situate ourselves in history which belongs to us”  (p. 137-in the 7th edition; this section is located in the paragraph above the portraits of the Regents and Regentesses).  As you reread this essay, pay particular attention to Berger’s uses of the word “history.”  What does it stand for?  What does it have to do with looking at pictures?  How might you define the term if your definition were based on its uses in this essay?

            You might take Berger’s discussion of the Hals painting as a case in point.  What is the relation Berger establishes between the past and the present?  If he has not “discovered” the past or recognized it for exactly what it is, what has Berger done in writing about these paintings?  What might it mean to say that he has “situated” us in history or has returned a history that belongs to use?  And in what way might this be said to be a political act?

 Assignment for Writing

 1. 

We are not saying that there is nothing left to experience before original works of art except a sense of aw because they have survived.  The way original works of art are usually approached—through museum catalogues, guides, hired cassettes, etc—is not the only way they might be approached.  When the art of the past ceases to be viewed nostalgically, the works will cease to be holy relics—although they will never re-become what they were before the age of reproduction.  We are not saying original works of art are now useless.  (p. 152-in the 7th edition; this section is located beneath the images of the statue and the two reclining women).

Berger argues that there are barriers to vision, problems in the ways we see or don’t see original works of art, problems that can be located in and overcome by strategies of approach.

            For Berger, what we lose if we fail to see properly is history:  “If we ‘saw’ the art of the past, we would situate ourselves in history which belongs to us.  When we are prevented from seeing it, we are being deprived of the history which belongs to us”  (p. 137-in the 7th edition; this section is located in the paragraph above the portraits of the Regents and Regentesses).   It is not hard to figure out who, according to Berger, prevents us from seeing the art of the past.  He says it is the ruling class.  It is difficult, however, to figure out what he believes gets in the way and what all this has to do with history

            For this assignment, write an essay explaining what, as you read Berger, it is that gets in the way when we look at paintings, and what it is that we might do to overcome the barriers to vision (and to history).  You should imagine that you are writing for someone interested in art, perhaps preparing to go to a museum, but someone who has not read Berger’s essay.  You will, that is, need to be careful in summary and paraphrase (to explain Berger’s ideas).

 
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