Saturday, May 21, 2011

John Berger – "Ways of Seeing" – Summary (3): nakedness and nudity

John Berger - "Ways of Seeing" - summary and review
part 1 - 2 - 3

Following Kenneth Clark John Berger, in "Ways of Seeing", distinguishes "naked" or "nakedness" from "nudity" in the European tradition, with nakedness simply being the state of having no cloths on and nudity being a form of artistic representation. The nature of this artistic mode is related, according to Berger, to what he terms "lived sexuality". Being naked is just being yourself, but being nude in the artistic sense of the word is being without cloths for the purpose of being looked at. A naked body has to become an object of a gaze in order to become a nude representation. Being naked means being without any costume that you put on, but being nude means that you become your own costume. Painting and photographs which portray nudity appeal to the viewer's sexuality, the male viewer, and have nothing to do with the portrayed woman's sexuality – women are there for men to look at, not for themselves, for man's sexuality, not their own. When there is a man figure in nude painting the woman seldom addressed him, for she is aiming at her "true lover" – the viewer, which is the central figure of the painting without even being present in it.

In "Ways of Seeing" Berger also discusses the meaning of being naked outside of the artistic context. He argues that in nakedness there is the relief of finding out that someone is indeed a man or a woman, and that at the moment of being naked an element of banality comes into play and that we require this banality because it dissolves the mystery which was present up until cloths were taken off and reality became simpler. Therefore nakedness in reality, unlike representation, is for Berger a process, not a state.

In concluding "Ways of Seeing" John Berger holds that the humanist tradition of European painting holds a contradiction: on the one hand the painter's, owner's and viewer's individualism and on the other the object, the woman, which is treated is abstraction. These unequal relations between men and women are, in Berger's view, deeply assimilated in our culture and in the consciousness of women who do to themselves what men do to them –objectify themselves.    
Selected Essays of John Berger
John Berger - "Ways of Seeing" - summary and review
part 1 - 2 - 3

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