Embry Riddle University Active Assessment of Gold Marilyn Monroe Discussion

Looking at Pictures [Berger]

Original paintings are silent and still in a sense that information never is. Even a reproduction hung on the wall is not comparable in this respect for in the original the silence and stillness permeate the actual material, the paint, in which one follows the traces of the painter’s immediate gestures. This has the effect of closing the distance in time between the painting of a picture and one’s own act of looking at it. . . . What we make of that painted moment when it is before our eyes depends upon what we expect of art, and that in turn depends today upon how we have already experienced the meaning of paintings through reproductions.

– John Berger

Ways of Seeing

While Berger describes original paintings as silent in this passage, it is clear that these paintings begin to speak if one approaches them properly, if one learns to ask “the right questions of the past. ”Berger demonstrates one route of approach, for example, in his reading of the Hals paintings, where he asks questions about the people and objects and their relationship to the painter and the viewer. What the paintings might be made to say, however, depends upon the viewer’s expectations, his or her sense of the questions that seem appropriate or possible. Berger argues that, because of the way art is currently displayed, discussed, and reproduced, the viewer expects only to be mystified.

[Mystification is an important and complex concept in sociological theory. Mystification (through the mechanisms of culture, educational systems, advertising, parenting, government, economics, etc.,) conditions and shapes our lived experiences, expectations, and perceptions of the world. What we see and the questions we ask of the world are conditioned by larger forces that shape our emotions and intellect. According to Berger, when we view a work of art a regime, that is, the museums, the critical accounts of a work of art, art textbooks, photographic reproductions, and so on, rushes in to prevent us from becoming ‘active agents’. Rather than asking our own questions and determining what a work of art/image means from our unique perspective, we rely on the experts, critics and established narratives to tell us what a work means. Mystification concerns the ways in which cognitive understandings of “what exists” are formed out of our lived experiences, formed in such a way that they distort and mask the way the social world really works.]

For this exercise, imagine that you are working against the silence and mystification Berger describes. Select a painting that seems silent and still, yet invites conversation. The painting may be the one you use for assignment 1, or it may not. Your job is to figure out what sorts of questions to ask, to interrogate the painting, to get it to speak, to engage with the past in some form of dialogue. Write a short response (5 pages) in which you record this process and what you have learned from it. Somewhere in your essay, perhaps at the end, turn back to Berger’s chapter to talk about how this process has or hasn’t confirmed what you take to be Berger’s expectations. Your response to this exercise can be integrated into Assignment 1 if it lends itself to your interpretation of assignment 1.

Note: If possible, include a jpeg or drop it in your document.

Notes on Assignment 1:

What follows provides ways into Assignment 1–a rough overview of ways to analyse and shape your essay. You can draw from these ideas to complete the exercise outlined above as well. It should not be taken as the only way to interpret the assignment, however. Here are some things to think about:

First, you need to select an image that is meaningful to you–a reproduction should be included in your essay.

Secondly, your essay should have a title.

Thirdly, your essay should have an introduction that identifies and defines the writing occasion. The introduction, of course, will reflect your close reading of Berger and your personal approach to the image that you have selected. This will require that you select a perspective from which to write, based on your critical thoughts and close readings of the Berger essay and your image. The assignment prompt suggests that you

. . . need to start by explaining what you understand Berger to be saying. You will need to work closely with his text, through summary, paraphrase, and quotation, in order to help your reader understand what is important about Berger’s essay. What, for example, is that “new language of images”? How does art help us “understand the history of which we can become the active agents”?

In terms of organization, you could summarize/paraphrase a series of concepts from Berger and use your inquiries to support or refute Berger’s assertions. Here are some modes of inquiry that one could use to identify the ‘new language of images’ and to show through critical inquiry how we can ‘become active agents’:

Does the painting explore a particular problem, concern, or subject matter?

What are some of the possible reasons (speculate) that prompted the artist to select and represent his or her subject matter?

What effect does the painting have on the contemporary viewer? What is the most important or striking element of the image?

Why is this painting useful to contemporary viewers? What can be learned from it? What can I learn from it?

Does the image transform my way of seeing? What background information do I have on the painting? How does this information affect my interpretation of the image?

In terms of a social perspective: What social concerns does the painting reveal? How does the painting relate to the past? How does the painting relate to the present? Is there a political statement? A theoretical statement? What is the significance of the social relations represented in the painting?

In terms of an emotional perspective: What elements/aspects of the painting engages one emotionally? How does it accomplish this? Are there emotional conflicts? What is the mood of the painting?

In terms of form: How can the form be described? What can be said about the artist’s style? Are there ambiguities in the painting that challenge the viewer? What is the significance of form in terms of our daily experience, our lived realities?

In terms of a logical perspective: Does the painting raise any debatable issues? What conclusion(s) does the painting reach? What evidence does it provide to support its claims? Does the painting take into account any opposing viewpoints?

In terms of an ethical perspective: What is the highest good revealed in the painting? What ethical convictions are present in the painting? What are the ethical and moral messages communicated via the painting, and how do they affect or inform our lived experience?

You may want to open your essay based on an issue that has been raised by Berger. Establish the context–Why is it important to learn how to interrogate (read) and analyse an image? Your reader, however, may not know who Berger is. Thus, you should be able to select representative passages from which to paraphrase or quote, and you should also be able to summarize what you are using from Berger to establish your method of reading your chosen work of art.

As you move on to the analysis of the painting you have selected, you need to explain what “new kind of power” might be “confer[red]” through really “seeing” that painting as Berger imagines. Again, draw upon themes in Berger’s essay: the nature and power of the image, the act of seeing, the nature of history, the problems posed by mystification, the invention of the camera and technological reproduction, the uniqueness and meaning of an original work of art, the issue of market value (scarcity) versus spiritual value, the removal of works of art from the general public (physically and intellectually).

Alternatively, think of assignment 1 as a dialogue or conversation between you (your analysis) and Berger (his ideas on viewing art) regarding an artefact (your chosen work of art).The focus of this dialogue: what “new kind of power” might be “confer[red]” through really “seeing” that painting as Berger imagines.

You should also provide a description of the image that you intend to discuss early on in your essay.

Fourthly, the essay’s body should consist of a series of paragraphs that shows your method of interrogation at work and moves the reader along.

Finally, you may want to return to Berger and talk about the benefits and/or shortcomings of the interrogative method used in your essay to convey a “new kind of power” through vision. There is power in seeing, having a vision to pursue and manifest it in the world—the rules, policies, and laws we live by are the products of those who took it upon themselves, for better or worse, to impose a vision of what society should look like and how we, its members, should act and be. Vision has launched successful businesses, large and small. Vision is the lifeblood of the entertainment industry, and all other creative endeavours. You have embarked on an academic career—you have a vision, conceivably, of what your future should look like once you have earned your diploma.

5) Proofread and edit carefully.

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