Ways of Seeing by John Berger

You don’t see a painting the same way twice. Synonymously, you don’t get to live out the same experience twice.

Yet all our living and ‘ways of seeing’ is a snowball effect. We begin as tiny dots upon a canvas bound by infinity and we grow, layer upon layer, defined by our choices. Choosing is arduous enough, every new decision is granting yourself a new lease on life, it can polish or wreck you. But there is one missing piece of the puzzle – and that, John Berger writes, “comes before words… it establishes our place in the world.” Seeing comes before choosing and it is perhaps more grueling because it reflects the inner life.

John Berger writes, “The world, as it is, is purer than objective fact, it includes consciousness.” And that, which relies on human dependency and capacity for seeing, is intensified not because the world possesses many objects for us to see but precisely because we can see (choose) them.

Such is the interrelation between art and human existence. This book, Ways of Seeing, is an account of their eternal struggle. Art and existence belong together – one reaches out to the other for influence, understanding, meaning, and purpose. While the other is a mere observer.

The book challenges the idea that the observer is in us. Consider for a minute the essence of art in all its stillness if the roles were reversed. The inner turmoil it would cause in us all, a kind of brooding existential inquiry.

As I turn over the pages of the book, I look at the words and paintings differently. I felt, for the lack of a better word, transformed with such acute awareness and understanding for the world around me. Even in my mind’s eye I saw the relation between fragments and their whole, colors and their gradations, people and their presence as an expression of my own being. Perhaps this defines the nature of being alive and the extent of feeling it.