“Seeing comes before words the child looks and recognises before it can speak.
But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.”
I remember being introduced to this seminal publication by John Berger. Ways of Seeing completely demystified the pomposity and disparity between so-called high art and perhaps the more lowly perceived visual arts and crafts.
It was just incredible, enlightening and the scales fell away.
For me, it helped build bridges between my love of raw drawing and painting and meaningful design development.
I would highly recommend it as a thoroughly stimulating and digestible approach to visual critique. A genuine eye opener.
Whilst Berger talks a lot about the advent of photography and its impact on traditional fine art and portraiture, I can’t help thinking that this analysis could so easily be applied to the phenomenal advances in the digital arts today, as well as our shift in attitudes between the tangible and virtual worlds and their perceived value.
“The visual arts have always existed within a certain preserve; originally this preserve was magical or sacred. But it was also physical: it was the place, the cave, the building in which, or for which, the work was made. The experience of art, which at first was the experience of ritual, was set apart from the rest of life – precisely in order to be able to exercise power over it. Later the preserve of art became a social one. It entered the culture of the ruling class, whilst physically it was set apart and isolated in their palaces and houses. During all this history the authority of art was inseparable from the particular authority of the preserve.
What the modern means of reproduction have done is to destroy the authority of art and to remove it – or rather, to remove its images which they reproduce – from any preserve. For the first time ever, images of art have become ephemeral, ubiquitous, insubstantial, available, valueless, free. They surround us in the same way as a language surrounds us. They have entered the mainstream of life over which they no longer, in themselves, have power.” Extract
Remembering the John Berger work got me thinking about some of my own moments of pure clarity and how I learned to look and see.
There are some individuals that are instrumental on our professional development and the way we work. I had an amazing set of teachers during my foundation studies, all dedicated and passionate artists in their own right.
One particularly outspoken lecturer declared that as young students embarking on a real journey of artistic growth, we must first un-learn everything that we thought we knew about drawing……
We must then ‘learn to see’. Only by really looking at and studying our subject matter could we start to ‘make marks’ and therefore really begin to draw well.
These words left an indelible impression on me and I have endeavoured to ‘look to see’ ever since. Subsequently, all of my work begins with drawing of some kind no matter how abstract or stylised the end result may be. Drawing, for me, is a completely meditative process and an ongoing journey as the learning never stops.