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← John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 2 (1972)

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Showing Revision 8 created 11/10/2015 by jbuckner.

  1. Men dream of women.
    Women dream of themselves being dreamt of.

  2. Men look at women.
    Women watch themselves being looked at.
  3. Women constantly meet glances which act like mirrors
  4. reminding them how they look or how they should look.
  5. Behind every glance, is a judgement.
  6. Sometimes the glance they meet, is their own, reflected back from a mirror.
  7. A woman is always accompanied, except when
  8. quite alone. And perhaps even then, by her
  9. own image of herself. When she is walking,
  10. across a room, or weeping at the death of her father,
  11. she cannot avoid envisioning herself, walking or weeping
  12. from earliest childhood, she is taught and persuaded to survey herself continually
  13. she has to survey everything she is and everything she does because
  14. how she appears to others and particularly how she appears to men
  15. is of crucial importance, for it is normally thought of as the success of her life
  16. [music]
  17. A woman in the culture of privileged Europeans,
  18. is first and foremost a sight to be looked at.
  19. What kind of sight is revealed in the average European oil painting
  20. There were portraits of women as there were portraits of men.
  21. but in one category of painting, women were the principle
  22. ever occuring subject, that category was the nude.
  23. In the nudes of European painting, we can discover some of the criteria
  24. and conventions by which women were judged.
  25. We can see how women were seen.
  26. What then is a nude?
  27. In his book on the nude, Kenneth Clark says that being
  28. naked is simply being without clothes
  29. the nude, according to him, is a form of art
  30. I would put it differently.
  31. To be naked is to be oneself.
  32. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and
  33. yet not recognized as oneself. A nude
  34. has to be seen as an object in order to be nude.
  35. In the European oil painting, nakedness is not taken for granted
  36. as in archaic art. Nakedness is a sight for those who are dressed.
  37. That is why Manners's painting which really marks the end of a period I am considering is so
  38. profound a comment on all the works that preceded it.
  39. the story begins with the story of Adam and Eve as told in Genesis.
  40. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and it was a delight for the eyes,
  41. and that the tree was desired to make one wise
  42. she took of the fruit thereof and did eat
  43. and she gave also to her husband with her, and he did eat.
  44. and the eyes of them both were opened, and they
  45. knew that they were naked
  46. and the Lord God called out to the man and said
  47. Where art thou? and he said
  48. I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid
  49. and I hid myself
  50. unto the woman God said, "I will greatly
  51. multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. In sorrow, thou shall bring forth children,
  52. and they desire will be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee."
  53. Two things are striking about this story.
  54. They become aware of being naked because, as a result of
  55. eating the apple, each sees the other differently
  56. nakedness is created in the mind of the beholder.
  57. The second striking fact is that the woman
  58. is blamed and is punished by being made subservient to the man
  59. In relationship to the woman, the man becomes the agent of God.
  60. In medieval art, the story is often illustrated scene following scene
  61. as in a strip cartoon.
  62. During the Renaissance, the narrative sequence disappears, and the single moment
  63. which is nearly always depicted, is the moment of shame.
  64. The couple wear fig leaves or make a modest gesture with their hands
  65. but now, their shame is not so much in relationship to one another as is to the spectator.
  66. It is the spectator looking which shames them.
  67. Later, as painting became more secular,
  68. many other subjects offer the opportunity for painting nudes.
  69. But always in the European tradition, the nude implies an awareness of being seen
  70. by the spectator. They are not
  71. naked as they are, they are naked as you see them.
  72. Often, as with the favorite subject of Suzanna and the elders,
  73. this is the actual theme of the picture.
  74. We join the elders to spy on her.
  75. She looks back at us looking at her.
  76. Sometimes the woman, Suzanna, looks at herself
  77. in the mirror, picturing herself as men see her.
  78. She sees herself first and foremost as a sight
  79. which means as a sight for men.
  80. Thus the mirror is a symbol of the vanity of women
  81. yet the male hypocrisy in this is blatant.
  82. You paint a naked women because you enjoy looking at her
  83. you put a mirror in her hand, and you call the painting vanity
  84. thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you have
  85. depictured for your own pleasure
  86. And thus, incidentally, repeating the biblical incident by
  87. blaming the woman
  88. The Judgement of Paris is another famous mythological subject with the same
  89. in written idea of looking at naked women and judging them.
  90. Paris awards the apple to the woman he finds most beautiful.
  91. Beauty in this context is bound to become competitive.
  92. The judgement of Paris is transformed into a beauty contest.
  93. Aesthetics when applied to women are not
  94. as disinterested as the word beauty
  95. might suggest
  96. I don't want to deny the crucial part that seeing
  97. plays in sexuality, but there's a great difference in being seen
  98. as oneself naked or being seen by another in that way
  99. and a body being put on display
  100. To be naked, is to be without disguise.
  101. To be on display, is to have the surface of one's own skin,
  102. the hairs of one's own body
  103. turned into a disguise.
  104. A disguise which cannot be discarded.
  105. Amongst the tens of thousands of European oil paintings
  106. of nudes, there are perhaps 20 or 30 exceptions, paintings in which the
  107. artist has seen the woman revealed as herself.
  108. this Rubens
  109. this Rembrant
  110. this George De La Tour
  111. These paintings are as personal as love poems
  112. and their character is quite distinctive
  113. Most nudes oil paintings have been lined up
  114. by their painters for the pleasure of the
  115. male spectator only
  116. who will assess and judge them
  117. as sights
  118. Their nudity is another form of dress
  119. They are condemned to never being naked
  120. with their clothes off, they are as formal
  121. as with their clothes on
  122. Those who are not judged beautiful, are not beautiful.
  123. Those who are, are given the prize.
  124. The prize is to be owned.
  125. That is to say, to be available.
  126. Charles II commissioned this secret painting
  127. from Lale. It's like hundreds of others,
  128. it might be Venus and Cupid, but
  129. in fact, it was a portrait of one of his mistresses Nell Gwen.
  130. He chose her passively looking at the
  131. spectator staring at her naked.
  132. Her nakedness is not an expression of her own feelings
  133. it is only a sign of her submission to his demand
  134. The painting, when he shows it to others,
  135. demonstrates this submission. His guests envy him.
  136. By contrast, in another tradition, nakedness is a celebration of
  137. active sexual love as between two people,
  138. the woman as active as the man
  139. the actions of each absorb the other.
  140. In oil painting, the second person or the second
  141. person who matters it the person looking at the painting.
  142. Compare these two women.
  143. One the model for what is considered a masterpiece by Eng
  144. and the other an ill paid model for a photograph in a girly magazine
  145. Or these two
  146. just the expresssion, the look,
  147. what do you see?
  148. It seems to me that in each pair, the expression
  149. is remarkably similar, and it is an
  150. expression of responding with remarkable charm
  151. to the man who she knows is looking at her
  152. although she doesn't know him
  153. It is true that sometimes a painting includes
  154. a male lover, but the woman's attention is very rarely
  155. directed towards him. She looks away from him
  156. or she looks out of the picture towards he who
  157. considers himself her true lover, the spectator-owner
  158. this painting was sent as a present from the Grand Duke of Florence to the King of France
  159. The boy kneeling on the cushion and kissing
  160. is Cupid the woman is Venus
  161. But the way her body is arranged has nothing to do with
  162. that kissing. Her body is arranged the way it is to display it
  163. to the man looking at the picture
  164. the picture is made to appeal to his sexuality
  165. it has nothing to do with her sexuality
  166. The convention of not painting the hair on a woman's body helps towards the same end.
  167. Hair is associated with sexual power, with passion.
  168. The woman's sexual passion, needs to be
  169. minimized, so that the spectator feels
  170. that he has the monopoly of such passion.
  171. There were paintings which depicted
  172. male lovers. These did exist.
  173. But they were mostly private, semi-pornographic
  174. pictures. In most paintings, which were painted to be seen
  175. rather than hidden, the only rival to the male
  176. spectator is a cupid.
  177. Now, how extraordinary it is that the
  178. pictorial symbol of passion is a small boy.
  179. For a similar reason, women in the European art of the oil painting are seldom seen dancing.
  180. They have to be shown languid, exhibiting a minimum of energy.
  181. They are there to feed an appetite, not to have any of their own.
  182. The appetite was theoretically gargantuan.
  183. The absurdity of this male flattery, although it was not seen as absurd then
  184. reached its peak in the public academic art of the 19th C
  185. prime ministers discussed under paintings like this
  186. when one of him felt he had been outwitted, he looked up for consolation
  187. the nude in European oil painting
  188. is usually presented as an ideal subject
  189. it is said to be an expression of the European humanist spirit
  190. I don't want to reject entirely the truth of this,
  191. but I have tried to add to it
  192. starting off from a different viewpoint.
  193. Duer who believed in the ideal nude
  194. thought that this ideal could be constructed
  195. by taking the shoulders from one body
  196. the hands of another, the breasts of another,
  197. and so on
  198. Was this humanist idealism?
  199. Or was it the result of the indifference
  200. to who any one person really was?
  201. Do these paintings celebrate
  202. as we're normally taught
  203. the women within them?
  204. or the male voyeur?
  205. Is there sexuality within the frame?
  206. or in front of it?
  207. I showed the program, as you have seen it, up to now, to five women.
  208. It began to seem absurd that the only images
  209. that you are seeing are of women
  210. silent, mute
  211. So, I showed it to them and asked them to comment.
  212. To comment not so much on the program
  213. but rather on the questions raised by it
  214. Above all, on the question of how men see women
  215. or how they have seen them in the past.
  216. And how this influences the way women see
  217. themselves today.
  218. We have an image, of
  219. Of course, we all have an image of ourselves
  220. and it is a visual image, but I wonder how
  221. much this sort of classical European painting
  222. has shaped that image.
  223. In my own case, I find it quite impossible when I
  224. look at the paintings you show, in your film, I can't
  225. take them seriously, I cannot identify with them
  226. because they are so immensely exaggerated.
  227. Always, you know, they fasten onto some secondary
  228. sexual characteristic, these enormous breasts,
  229. these beasting bottoms, those huge things like that
  230. and they just aren't real. Whereas with
  231. photographs, you can feel that as potentially, possibly
  232. although it probably isn't. Many of these paintings you show are idealized.
  233. Um, and therefore, they are to me very unreal.
  234. in connection with any deep down image that I might have of myself
  235. or in connection with any deep down
  236. pleasure I might have
  237. when looking at another female body
  238. they don't give me that pleasure at all
  239. I can admire then as paintings
  240. but they don't mean human beings to me
  241. the image that I compare myself to
  242. is the photograph because it is with photographs
  243. that I have been encouraged to think of myself
  244. in this way, it is essentially advertising to me
  245. that has made me think of myself in this way
  246. and consequently, I find it extremely interesting to go
  247. back and think of nudes in this way because
  248. I have never done so, but having seen the film
  249. I have no doubt that the same thing applies.
  250. And do you find the nudes in painting unreal
  251. in the same way? yes.
  252. Well, you can't get any information from it,
  253. can you ? there's no guide to how you might--
  254. what information is lacking?
  255. well, activity. Dynamism. it is how
  256. someone sees you and that's all,
  257. it is laid upon you.
  258. I'm glad you showed the men in picture
  259. because I always find this extremely shocking
  260. the men are dressed and the women are naked
  261. and this seems to sum up the entire situation
  262. because these women as well being humiliated
  263. and I think this is part of the whole
  264. scheme of things
  265. as most people have had, at some station
  266. in life, nightmares about running through the streets with nothing on
  267. while everyone else is dressed. And this seems
  268. to me to be one element in the picture.
  269. One very interesting thing you said in the film was
  270. about how nudity was really a kind of disguise,
  271. it wasn't the real person themselves free.
  272. But it was just another garment they were wearing
  273. and worse than a garment, in a sense, because
  274. it was something that you can't take off.
  275. This comes, I think, from
  276. nudity being combined with a pose. And that's
  277. inevitable if you're going to have a painting
  278. of a model. Um, in a way, I think that
  279. we're always dressing. We're always dressing up
  280. for a part. Always putting on a uniform of one kind of another
  281. and I think women do this more than men
  282. men have only been doing it fairly recently.
  283. Women are always dressing to show the kind of
  284. character that they want to present: the mother, the working
  285. woman, the pretty young chick. And nudity
  286. is a uniform, in a way, for I'm ready
  287. for sexual pleasure. So, it doesn't. You can't
  288. identify being nude with being free.
  289. Only just recently read that book
  290. which describes a way in which a woman
  291. is reduced to the sexual pleasure she can
  292. to a complete object provide to a man. And what struck me in all that book
  293. that was the most impressive image is the fact that she was told
  294. that she was never to touch her own breasts to
  295. close her own mouth or to put her legs
  296. together. So, the whole point about her stance
  297. all the time is that she was available
  298. and this sense of being available of waiting
  299. for other people is the very antithesis of action
  300. and you know just like the Brook Street
  301. Bureau advertisement, Tony hasn't run. He's
  302. three minutes late in ringing. You feel this whole
  303. situation, the number of women you talk to who
  304. say I stay in so many night a week, waiting for someone to ring
  305. the concept of availability implies
  306. passivity because if you're simply waiting for someone else to act
  307. then you can't help yourself.
  308. yes, it's like you will awake when a man touches
  309. you when a man kisses you. Whether its an excuse,
  310. to get yourself going, I think women are shy
  311. they are waiting too long.
  312. yes, yes.
  313. Could I say something now about narcissism?
  314. I think that both men and women are narcissistic
  315. but in different senses, and I think
  316. that one in sometimes I have the impression
  317. that men and women are tremendously
  318. narcissistic and are cut off from each other
  319. from their images of themselves. But
  320. whereas a woman's image of herself is derived
  321. directly from other people, the mirror you're talking about
  322. a man's image of himself is derived from
  323. the world that is its the world that gives him back
  324. his image because he acts in it. and the women are drawn to him as a source, as central activity,
  325. and as a source of worth
  326. since he is in the world, the fact
  327. that he values her is important
  328. and so because their centers of narcissism are different,
  329. and the woman's is essentially only
  330. related to the other person
  331. she is in a much more passive position than he is
  332. in relation to it
  333. yes
  334. do you see narcissism as essentially a negative
  335. or positive phenomenon?
  336. well, i think that is very difficult to answer
  337. but in the sense that it is related to
  338. an identity, um, it is a positive phenomenon
  339. and it seems to me that what women envy in men in that
  340. they have a sense of their
  341. own identity
  342. that there is something in them
  343. that is important to them other than
  344. simply what other people think of them
  345. and I think that thing
  346. is product of their interaction in the world
  347. and it is almost as if through this interaction
  348. they build up a store of worth
  349. of their sense of themselves
  350. which is a constant
  351. it cannot be lost
  352. and because a woman doesn't go out
  353. and do that
  354. she doesn't create a store
  355. she waits for the present interaction with a man
  356. that can go, that can end at any moment
  357. there is something here that really
  358. I would like to push around a little bit
  359. because narcissism is a very pronounced
  360. way of stating a relationship with the world
  361. whether it is a man or a woman
  362. but this other question which is contained
  363. within it, but doesn't go as far as it as an idea
  364. is this sort of self delight of a person
  365. whether or it is a man or woman
  366. in life, in what they're doing
  367. in relationships with a man or woman
  368. and it is a thing that matters tremendously
  369. and its not only a thing that is an inner thing
  370. by which you life
  371. but it is a very outer thing
  372. by which you gain relationships with
  373. your own context in the world
  374. that you can't gain any other way
  375. its when you've somehow been made
  376. so unconscious of yourself that
  377. you easily, naturally,sort of
  378. compulsively go out to whatever is around you
  379. now, when you're a child that tends
  380. with people to be other things
  381. doesn't it?
  382. mountains, streams, whereever you go
  383. and then only gradually as you go on
  384. you make this kind of absolutely necessary contact with people
  385. but I do think that the sort of essense
  386. of self delight as a kind of possible thing
  387. in the modern world and something
  388. that fewer women have than men and want and must have
  389. is the power, the compulsion, not the power
  390. the compulsion to make contact with the world
  391. as you are living in it
  392. and when I'm saying that I don't
  393. simply mean the people next door
  394. I mean what is going on
  395. yes
  396. I am not so sure about the delight
  397. I think it is a very double edged thing
  398. I know
  399. as I suppose I've always known
  400. that I became aware of it in this film
  401. I've never consciously looked at myself in
  402. the mirror and seen myself as I am
  403. I always see the image that I want
  404. I know that I want to
  405. and my children notice it that if I make up
  406. my face I put on a certain expression
  407. if I , from adolescence on, if I have seen myself
  408. naked in the mirror, I have not thought of
  409. myself naked, I have thought of myself as a nude
  410. and I think this comes from having been trolled
  411. around all the major art galleries
  412. in essence, this is culture, this is beauty
  413. with a capital B
  414. and, of course, up to a point from advertising too
  415. but much more from the painting
  416. um, that you think the female body is beautiful
  417. I am a beautiful object, if not, I have to do
  418. something about it
  419. um, and therefore, the painful part
  420. of a narcissistic society is the feeling of inadequacy
  421. this business of always posing in a mirror
  422. I think one does absolutely automatically
  423. and if you actually catch yourself
  424. in a mirror by chance that is not deliberately
  425. because you're getting dressed or having a bath
  426. there's one in the street, or you catch yourself
  427. in a shop window, it's a tremendous shock
  428. because you suddenly see yourself as you are
  429. which is windblown, untidy, badly dressed
  430. tired, and so on
  431. you don't see the person
  432. at all, and I think this is what happens to women
  433. they are always trying to measure
  434. up to this erotic image that is projected.
  435. There are some paintings
  436. and I'm thinking at this moment of one painting
  437. where there is a woman
  438. who is wearing a garment
  439. she is not nude
  440. but it is a garment so loose, so comfortable
  441. so easy, and its my idea, very much
  442. of what a picture of a woman might be like
  443. I think its from a period before yours,
  444. it's so long ago by Lorenzetti
  445. it's a fresco, very very old
  446. and it is a picture of a woman
  447. who is suppossed to represent peace
  448. it's quite extraordinary
  449. she could be one of the liberated
  450. or trying to be liberated young women
  451. of today. she is at ease, she is relaxed
  452. she is not playing the part at all
  453. she is able to combine
  454. pleasure with thought
  455. and with dreaming
  456. and she is, she might spring into action
  457. at any moment
  458. and for me
  459. she has much, much more to do
  460. with nakedness, with oneself, with the
  461. truth of oneself than any other nudes I have seen
  462. [music]