Sample Composition Critical Thinking Paper on John Berger: Ways of Seeing


The article ‘Ways of Seeing’ by John Berger is the most influential and stimulating item that he drafted to exhibit art. It was published for the first time in 1972. In this book, Berger addresses on changes from Renaissance to the present that attribute to femininity art.


Reflecting on this topic, Berger exhibits the distinct in images from European oil paintings to the modern advertisements. He also depicts how men and women are observed in a social setting. He talks about the female figure in art, culture and the present forms of advertising. 


In this book, Berger begins by revealing the connection between words and the things that we see (Berger 72).  He cites that normally people see first before they speak. This applies to children as they tend to develop. He further adds that seeing initiates our place in the environment enabling us to describe the world using words. In this sense, words can never eradicate the fact that it is the world that surrounds us. According to the author, the relation that exist between the things we see and know can never be settled.

The fact that seeing and recognition comes before words implies that it is through visualizing that we initiates our place in the world. In this context, words are necessary to tell more concerning the world. Berger argues that there is a difference between the things we see and know. He gives an example of how we see the sun rotating around the earth and challenges us that what we know is the opposite. He explains his view by indicating that what we believe or know affects the manner in which we see things. As a result, this creates a dynamic relationship which begins with seeing but later this procedure changes when we link it to our past knowledge.

The writer points out that seeing is an active act that is based on choice. This implies that we see what we stare at and relate to it. This system makes it possible for us to be seen and have the knowledge that we are included in the visible world. This further creates an understanding that we see things in a different way with others. According to Berger, an image refers to a sight that has been reproduced. He terms images such as photographs to depict various ways of seeing especially when it comes to an individual who created it.  Berger adds that the manner in which people understand another person’s image depends on how they see it.

He reveals that images were first created to reflect on something that did not exist. Later, the picture acquires an extra meaning that makes it to last for a long time in contrast to the imaginative subject. (Darley 65) Berger depict art as a system that reflects well the past and enables us to understand experiences of the artists with the world. However, the past images that becomes works of arts tend to have mystified meanings. It is reflected through learnt assumptions that ranges from truth and beauty.

In regard to cultural mystification, images appear as remote making people to have less conclusions from history. In this context, the mystification prevents us from recognizing the image hence it deprives individuals of their history. He cites an example of two paintings that were created by Frans Hals. They represented the Regents and Regentesses of Alms House that belonged to the old men. To reveal the history of the images, the writer argues against how the audience reason concerning personalities of individuals portrayed. He claims that viewers can have an understanding based on their own correspondence of how they observe the people. In this perspective, Berger reveals that the society we stay in is of comparable moral value and social relations. According to him, the essence of painting relies on the destitute of the original painter and their personalities.

In this article, Berger reveals about the outcome of photography. In his perspective, he argues that the images were timeless. He cites photography to have brought these changes which implies that what people saw reflected space and time (Fuller 96). It further means that through the camera, artists were in a position to see the images in a different way. He also reveals that there was change in photography to terminate unique images. He feels that besides photography, images were essential in buildings. He also reveals that pictures could be moved but there was always an original one. Additionally, creating numerous images made the camera to multiply and loose its meaning.

Moreover, Berger analyzes how culture represented men and women. He reveals that in visual culture, men and women enticed various gazes. This also involves ways in which men perceived them. Berger notes that the cultural presence of a woman differs to that of a man. He argues that the availability of a man in this world concern potency. It relates to the things that he can perform, his capability and power. He terms the presence of a woman to revolve around herself but not the world. Clearly, it was destined for a woman to take charge of a man. As a result, this made the woman to be self-conscious and aware of her availability in each action she engaged in.   

The author notes that the self-value of a woman is measured in the manner which she analyzes herself. This also depends on how men and other people viewed her. The ways that a woman perceives herself and how others perceived her indicated how she would like to be handled. Berger adds that when a woman acts, it reveals that she wants attention. It is in this context that he cites ‘men act but women appear’ (Berger 112).

Berger embraces European artistic tradition to evaluate on how this culture depict women. He claims that Renaissance art reflects back to Eve when she was nude. According to him, people paint a woman to watch her and satisfy their pleasure. The writer reveals that prettiness was a factor in determining the appearance and beauty in a woman. Furthermore, he cites that other cultures did not embrace similar attitude towards the nudity of women. In this regard, Berger emphasizes that there are various ways of seeing or subjecting based on the Western culture in history.

In his ‘ways of seeing’ article, Berger distinguishes between nudity and nakedness. He cites that in European culture, naked is a state of having no clothes. He terms nudity as a way of representation that applies in art. The writer also explains that images and paintings that exhibit nudity appeal to sexuality of the viewers.  In artistic context, a woman is nude for a man to stare at. In reality, Berger terms nakedness to be a process and not a state. This is because it entailed a mystery that made the individual to reach a point of removing his clothes. In essence, Berger holds that in the European traditions, there was unequal relations between women and men.

Clearly, ‘way of seeing’ applies in art to mean observation and to portray understanding. This is via articulating beyond the surface of the world to identify imaginary things that appeal to the eye. He terms technology to have influenced art in these current days. He reveals that the current form of art is ambiguous in contrast to the one which applied in the past. As a result, this destroyed the unique and initial meaning of art (Custen 80).  Berger cites that in the European culture, woman are beyond sight. They represent a subject that gives pleasure to the male viewers. He further adds that whether in tradition or current art paintings, women pose nude to satisfy the interests of their superiors. Berger’s approach to art articulates on the continuity that lead to understanding of femininity forms.

In conclusion, ‘ways of seeing’ article enlightens us that beliefs and knowledge affects the manner in which people see things.  From this article we also learn that a man’s availability relies on his power. Conversely, the presence of a woman relates to her own attitude. It determines the things that can and those which cannot be done to her. Berger adds that women appear in advertisement to add glamour and make it appealing to the audience.

Works Cited

Berger, John, Jean Mohr, and Nicholas Philibert. Another Way of Telling: A Possible Theory of        Photography. , 2016. Print.

Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin, 2008. Print.

Custen, George F. “Wavs of Seeing.” Studies in the Anthropology of Visual Communications. 5.2 (1979): 144-148. Print.

Darley, Gillian, Review O. B. London, Josephine Quinn, and Alex Abramovich. “John             Berger.” London Review of Books. (2017): 2017-1. Print.

Dyer, Geoff. Ways of Telling: The Work of John Berger. London: Pluto Press, 1986. Print.

Fuller, Peter. Seeing Berger: A Revaluation of Ways of Seeing. London: Writers and Readers,          1981. Print.