Berger, John. Sense of Sight. Pantheon Books, 1986.
Reason read: October is Art Appreciation Month
To read Sense of Sight is to jump into a world of essays on various topics, each one taking you on a journey for the senses. You will discover Albrecht Durer is an interesting looking guy. Berger tells us he is the first painter to be obsessed with his own image. A ride on the Bosphorus can be somewhat romantic if you are patient and watchful. Manhattan, seen as a chaotic paradox and a land of severe contradictions, will astound you. [As an aside, while reading about Manhattan I was simultaneously reminded of Natalie Merchant’s “Carnival” and Candace Bushnell’s Sex and the City with their displays of weak and strong, poverty and wealth, intimacy and strangeness, darkness and light. One of my favorite quotes comes from Berger’s essays on Manhattan, “Manhattan is haunted by the dead” (p 65). And to think the essay in question was written in the mid-1970s. What would Berger think of the dead after 9/11 attacks?]
But. I digress. Back to Sense of Sight. I wish Berger were standing before me. I would ask if it is true the body of the Duchess of Alba was exhumed and her skeleton compared to the Goya paintings (according to Google, it is very much true). Talk about the scrutiny of art! And speaking of Alba, Durer’s conceit was on display in Sense of Sight whereas Maja dressed and indressed evokes a curiosity within us. Because Berger does not provide her image like he did for Durer, are we prompted or subliminally urged to look her up? If so, does that mean we have been artfully played into Berger’s cunning trap of intrigue? He talks of Maja undressed and dressed in such great detail we might not need the investigation if we are to trust our imaginations. But we will want to all the same. In reading Sense of Sight the reader is treated to a mini biography of Claude Monet (did he really love the sea? why do I only think of ponds and lilies?), learn of a hotel that once serves as the interogation and death and torture headquarters during World War II, and come to the realization that poetry is anguish.
Sense of Sight made me think. I have always wondered when a painting is truly finished. What prompts an artist to put down the paint brush for the final time? And this – when a person is no longer with us, are they no longer real? If they become just a memory does what was once tangible become a figment of our imagination?
As an aside, I made this comment in my notes “why can’t it be a social commentary on this is how life is at this very moment? Why can’t we say this is how we do things now?” I have no idea what I was talking about except to say it is under the quote, “heroizing the farm laborer.”
Another aside, I am fascinated by the idea that nomadic people took their art with them. Of course.
Lines I liked, “The nomadic land is not just an image, it has history” (p 55), “The finction of painting is to fill an absence with the simulacrum of a presence” (p 212),
Author fact: Berger also wrote Ways of Seeing and About Looking in addition to Sense of Sight. I just have About Looking as my last Berger book to read.
Book trivia: Sense of Sight includes photographs. That’s how I know Albrecht Durer is an interesting looking guy.
Nancy said: Pearl said Sense of Sight was an extension of Ways of Seeing.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the simple chapter called “Art Appreciation” (p 25).