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John Berger Ways of Seeing Essay

In John Berger’s article, ’Ways of Seeing’, it explains European eighteenth century art and how it relates to many of todays cultural transitions. Before Berger begins explaining the art itself, he tells us about the cultural constructions that exist today. These cultural constructions are enforced and were highlighted through European eighteenth century art. He began by explaining the difference between a man and a woman’s presence. Men’s presence depends how much power he is able to successfully portray. This power can be social, economical, sexual, etc. A woman’s presence expresses her attitude toward herself and in turn how she will allow other to treat her. This explains why women are so critical of them and critique their actions no matter what the situation may be. Berger begins to explain how the art ties into this when he says, “men act, women appear.”

He further explains how men look at women, while women watch themselves being looked at. Thus, a woman is turned into an object. He even provides an interesting example of how women supposedly became subservient to men. In the book of Genesis Eve gave Adam an apple they weren’t supposed to eat. After they ate the apple they became aware and self-conscious of the fact they were naked, so they made clothes for themselves. Eve was punished for eating the apple and giving one to Adam by being made subservient to the man. This relates to art because, in Berger’s words, “women in paintings are there to feed an appetite, not to have any of their own.”

He also explains the nude women in paintings appeal to the men’s sexuality. In European oil paintings the painter is never painted, yet is always assumed to be male. The women in these paintings were treated and/or portrayed as objects, and this view still exists today. It is an unequal relationship that in Berger’s words, “still structures the consciousness of many women.” The insecurities women feel in a large part comes from the way they have been viewed as object, always needing to be perfect. This is proven through the European eighteenth century art as the way the women are portrayed in the paintings. These views still exist in the media today. Commercials show seductive women gazing into a camera with an equally attractive man staring at them.


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