ONE Book Residency Notes: Ways of Seeing

By 19th May 2020 Blog

The following text and images are my notes, thoughts and ideas relating to the ONE Book Residency, which I recently engaged in thanks to the ONE Project. I typed these down in Notepad whilst slow reading the book over a course of three days. Might not make total sense to others, but it’s pretty much as-is, though I tidied up the spelling errors (but not all the grammar – sozzard! – and added relevant imagery and links… This is meant to be considered alongside the text, ‘Ways of Seeing’ by John Berger.

Cover

bit dated looking
interesting how much text is on it – like the essay starts before the book is opened

Chapter 1

“TO LOOK IS AN ACT OF CHOICE”

epistemology – ‘knowing’ – My raisin project – 9 ways of knowing
artist guides viewer to their own way of seeing
audience – learnt assumptions that

“OBSCURE THE PAST”

Cultural mystification
Class – art as an oppressive tool by the ruling classes to justify past
Arty Bollocks on the Frans Hals. Jibber jabber. Emotive language used to describe technique, as a reflection of content, to make assumptions on lived experience.

We draw on our own experiences to make judgements on what we see in images
Perspective – the eye as a vanishing point – the

UNIQUE CENTRE OF THE WORLD

..proposed as the ideal standard of vision and perspective through the invention and use of cameras. Wasn’t this the case before? Doesn’t older art show that same ideal of vision? Surely art has been ‘perspectified’ for a long time based on the field of eye vision?

One original can only exist in one place at one time. Reproductions destroys its uniqueness – but makes it somewhat accessible and allows for recontextualization?
Unique artworks are revered and valued based on their original-ness, rather than the intrinsic messages of the work. authentic = beautiful.
Virgin of the Rocks – sad that the legal stuff is what’s deemed important. Who gives a shit – the work is more important unto itself? Capitalist arseholes.
Art is made mysterious as repros diminish its uniqueness. Is that still the case? Does the artwork become LESS mysterious and folks feel less threatened by it, from exposure?

Wonder what more recent research shows about who attends art space? Is it still that stark?
‘AXIOMATIC = taken for granted/self evident
Class – masses believe art is for the rich. Do they still? I would think so… the art world is far too pretentious. Self-serving narratives to exclude and self-reassure about perceived status as an ‘artist’. Isn’t everyone capable of being artist? No, according to the pretentious art industry…
Questions of access – are institutions supporting different demographics and making work more accessible? How many artists give a shit about how accessible their artworks are?

repros can use images to serve alternative messages and meanings. text can alter perspective of it.

consumption of art is more subtle now, through illustrations and advertising and consumer products and print
art is in the form of a gif or meme?

ART MAKES INEQUALITY SEEM NOBLE AND HIERARCHIES SEEM THRILLING.

art once related to the place it resided – not so much now. art is predominantly on our screens. Art is everywhere, or nowhere?

pg33
IF THE NEW LANGUAGE OF IMAGES WERE USED DIFFERENTLY, IT WOULD, THROUGH ITS USE, CONFER A NEW KIND OF POWER. wITHIN IT WE COULD BEGIN TO DEFINE OUR EXPERIENCES MORE PRECISELY IN AREAS WHERE WORDS ARE INADEQUATE (SEEING COMES BEFORE WORDS)

emojis. new kind of hieroglyph that transcends localised languages – language of babel.
Memes are another one – each has a sphere of meaning and context that is reproduced and appropriated, and reappropriated. Memes belong to the people, no individual ownership to them. communal art piece.

Could emojis be used to describe/explore art? Hinting at the context in a way that anyone could understand, using a pre-existing, global, shared visual language?

Here, I try to explain this piece of work, it’s basic and crude but I did my best in the time I had:

A PEOPLE OR A CLASS WHICH IS CUT OFF FROM ITS OWN PAST IS FAR LESS FREE TO CHOOSE AND TO ACT AS A PEOPLE OR CLASS THAN ONE THAT HAS BEEN ABLE TO SITUATE ITSELF IN HISTORY. THIS IS WHY – AND THIS IS THE ONLY REASON WHY – THE ENTIRE ART OF THE PAST HAS NOW BECOME A POLITICAL ISSUE.

This book cannot be read in the same context as the 70s. A lot of it isn’t relevant anymore, and we generally have different experiences regarding the stuff that is.

Chapter 2

women as enviable object
illustrative of oil painting porn
flesh
possession
women as surveyed

Chapter 3

women as being surveyed – SHE IS ALMOST CONTINUALLY ACCOMPANIED BY HER OWN IMAGE OF HERSELF – this still feels relevant?  I for one feel accompanied by my own image. getting angry when reading this – was written 50 years ago nearly and its still rings true to an extent. Granted, not as much, but it does.

yet, is this something that was a given at the time? axiom? is this a pure reflection of the hyper-misogynistic culture at the time? Is this still as true to that extreme?

Why is a bloke outlining what it is I/women experience? Bugger off Berger.

pervy art narrative – voyeuristic

fragile male egos. diddums.

nakedness – I wonder if thinking about nakedness is impacted by your own relationship with nakedness of yourselves and others. Is it more of a ‘thing’ if you are uncomfortable with your own nakedness, or less of one?

Are women just objects for men? Aren’t women in society stronger? Especially now… actually how relevant is it? What about matriarchal societies and communities? Non-Western cultures?

Although women are dismantling this concept of being good for one purpose. many strong female role models, more understanding men… but it must still be an issue or feminism wouldn’t still exist. women are judged for challenging surveyance –  ie billie eilish getting slagged off purely for wearing baggy comfy clothes

Chapter 4

mother and child
death
stuff/possession/food
male/female – renaissance, mythical
sex/passion/f dependency, mythical
portraits LOOK AT ME – regal
portraits LOOK AT THEM
portraits…development of portraiture?

THEMES OF OIL PAINTING

Chapter 5

possession through painting – paintings of objects are possessions within possessions. Inceptionpossessions. look at what gold can buy – stuff, food, animals, buildings, clothes, land. Is the modern equivalent an Instagram feed? LOOK AT MY STUFF! LOOK AT MY EXPERIENCES! LOOK AT MY INFLUENCE! FOLLOW MEEEEE!

THE ART OF ANY PERIOD TENDS TO SERVE THE IDEOLOGICAL INTERESTS OF THE RULING CLASS

overt shameless displays of exploitation

implanting selves as gods and legends

art as a tool for self flattery of the rich. now art as a tool for cultural equity.

Chapter 6

illustrating concepts, more non realistic
slavery, wealth, exploitation, white saviour, white centre stage
Class
wealth inequality
reality vs the romanticised ideal (to make the rich feel better)
animals, pets, painted with love by the rich
horses – pets of the rich – status

INTERESTING HOW HE GIVES US TITLES OF SOME AND NOT OTHERS

sins??

Chapter 7

adverts
publicity does not offer free choice, not in a digital age.
advertising and marketing has become exploitative noise that reinforce harmful messages related to consumption and identity.

led to a culture of debt that imprisons most of us

publicity has become more sophisticated than ‘glamour’ – more niche now in order to appeal to marketable rampant individualism… such as the ‘ethical consumer’, ‘quirky wierdo rebel’, ‘influencer-wannabe’ etc – not always about being enviable anymore, sometimes its about being ‘morally or culturally better’ than everyone else.

Its not about sharing enviable experience with audiences anymore – flipped on its head now – instagram is ABOUT envy ITSELF

oil paintings pitched to spectator-owner. Now media, adverts pitched to spectator-buyer

YOU ARE WHAT YOU HAVE

sex sells
working class – transformation of self
middle class – transformation of relationships

feeling angry again at publicity and the unethical nature of advertising and marketing

Post Reading

  • it doesn’t seem as revolutionary as when I first read it – is it because I’m now so confident on these ideas? Because I’ve developed my thinking around topics? Because I’ve spent so much more time thinking critically about the context of art?
  • It doesn’t go in depth enough into anything, skips around ideas quite quickly without offering real meat on many things. Feels very introductory. And why does he reference a load of blokes, and not one woman?
  • Too many distractions in house. And it was horrid reading on a screen – much prefer books!!

These following questions were posed by Marta and Magda from the ONE Project, prior to the group discussion…

What is slow looking?
Slow looking isn’t about torturing yourself to read slower than is natural, but rather reading in a way that is deliberate, where you leave pause to reflect, think, make connections. It’s about spending time with the work and leaving enough space for thoughts to percolate. I take notes to capture my thoughts and ideas in the moment.

How to look to actually see?
Spend time with it. ponder the connections, the contextual relationships, situate it in time and place, resituate to now, the self, the backgrounds. Does the intention of the artist matter? Yes, but you only want to know until after you have established an opinion yourself.

Did slow reading change your perception of the text?
I found this text – with it’s lack of meatiness – quite difficult to slow read. Nowt to get your teeth into. But, I think I slow read (as far as possible) it the first time reading it years ago, but by rereading it a few times in a short space of time, and recording immediate fleeting thoughts and ideas, it has been beneficial because it has allowed the concepts to be absorbed to a deeper level.

Did the context of pandemic and selfisolation alter the way you experienced the text?
It’s given me space and permission to do something like this over the weekend. Life has slowed down – and I’ve been off work anyway with my back anyway – so I don’t feel guilty for not rushing around being super productive.

What exercises can you perform when you are in a museum or gallery context to look slowly?
This is what I often do with a work that I’m drawn to, love, don’t ‘get’, unexplainably hate….

  • you can have a conversation with the work in your head, using what you contextually know about the work, and it’s place and time, to provide answers or suppositions
  • look at the work first, look at the blurb (if at all) afterwards, look back, see if that alters things
  • do a blind contour drawing of the work
  • talk to the work and tell the work what you see in it

Thinking about the application of what you read in a context of a gallery/museum – how will your approach to looking alter?
modernise the concepts of which he speaks, consider what else it might relate to

What is the relation between knowledge and seeing in your practice?
My work is fundamentally based on epistemology, which began with the Raisin D’Etre project –  how it is that we come to know about something in the first place. Also within The Critical Fish – that is all about having critical conversations about work, and supporting others to do that also.

How to be a part of the visible world as an artist?

Erm…? We are creators – we’re intrinsically past of the visible world?

Considering that ‘Ways of Seeing’ was written in 1972, how did the knowledge of looking develop since then?
things have become a lot more conceptual, so drawing out context can be a lot more difficult
but also some art has become direct – text based work, protest art
we have google to read about art – for better or worse – so we can access more information but have maybe lost elements of critical thinking
visual culture is now personally curated – sponsored ads, recommended for you, promoted… can be difficult to find new types of art, see something new
curators and galleries beginning to represent a wider array of people and artforms – but not nearly enough!

Do we need language to experience art?
no to experience it, whether that’s making or viewing, but yes to share the work and discuss ideas around that (not necessarily verbal language)

What do you think Berger would say about staging an exhibition of one artwork at the time, in the context of ONE Project practice?
I think that he’d probably appreciate it because its forcing an audience to really look at the work and sit with the piece
but then I wonder if he’d question the effect of stripping away everything in itself – back to the ONE thing, which were not used to, and how that might alter the perception of the work. How can a work be completely isolated? It’ll still always be in a place, in a context.Does its oneness add to that holy relic/mystery concept that he speaks of? Who chose this one piece, and why does that piece make it more important to show at that moment in time, and why? And to what end? The context of the work is selected to bolster and self-serve the vision of those in control over the exhibition.

Consider the ideas of setting in which we view art in the context of pandemic and impossibility of visiting museums/galleries.
it’s lost in the noise of the internet
adverts, constant adverts on tv, but quiet because were not bombarded with advertisements out on billboards in the real world
right now, most of art we see is through the context of a screen – designs and art are made and/or edited to suit a smartphone screen
art and aestheticism of the real world at home – objects/art in our homes, beauty of nature, participatory art in the community (that we see on tv/social media)

How artworks look at viewers? Have you ever experienced the reversal of gaze between you and the art object? Can artworks objectify the beholder? Please find one artwork that can exemplify this and share your findings with the group.

quite difficult to think of an example because the gaze depends on who they’re looking at? Who are they expecting to be at the other end of the image? What are they objectifying us as?

I chose this poster of Lord Kitchener because…

he literally gazes at YOU
Berger speaks of objectified women
sex
sex is a base human need, instinctual
objectification of women appeals to that base need in (straight) men
safety, security, protection is another base human need
This poster appeals to this base need
using the cultural pressure regarding men being protector, guardian
with an expectation of the viewer
to fight for country and crown
objectifying the viewer as a weapon for war
viewer as soldier.

Modern gaze reversal is probably advertising… they appeal to our base human need for acceptance. We are not seen as fully realised individuals, we are statistics, numbers, CONSUMERS. We are objectified as cash cows.

sponsored ads are a reversal of gaze – images crop up that seem to respond to you as a person. Is this the modern gaze reversal? Visual culture reflecting YOU back at you? It’s not even a mirror of my physical self – it’s reflecting back at me IDENTITY MARKERS. frightening.

These image shows a collection of the first sponsored/promoted ads that I came across, results of the various social media algorithms predicting what I’ll most likely respond well to, in order to part with my hard-earned cash. Do my adverts say a lot about me? Is this the modern self-portrait? My interests and identity is reflected back at me, and I am the one that is objectified as a cash cow by faceless figures of power. Makes you feel like crap to be honest.

Share a sentence or a passage from “Ways of Seeing” that informed or influenced your practice.
TO LOOK IS AN ACT OF CHOICE. My practice is about being mindful, about taking the time, about looking. I draw, I observe. I drew raisins for 18 months ffs. To take the time to look is a conscious effort.
Reminder to be mindful, to remember that when people don’t look at your work its a choice on them, not necessarily because the work is bad. Prompt to inspire others to look, to slow down, to take time – Critical Fish

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