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review 2017-03-15 16:08
Seeing Comes Before Words: "Ways of Seeing" by John Berger
Ways of Seeing - John Berger

“But because it is nevertheless ‘a work of art”’ – and art is thought to be greater than commerce – its market price is said to be a reflection of its spiritual value of an object, as distinct from a message or an example, can only be explained in terms of magic or religion.”


In “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger


“Original paintings are silent and still in a sense that information never is. Even a reproduction hung on a 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 the picture and one’s own act of looking at it. In this special sense all paintings are contemporary.”


In “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger


I find it strange when someone tells me they’re attached to a certain painter and that painter in question is a genius; the definition of 'genius' is fairly broad, so one person's definition might not be another's. I haven't fully formed my argument, haven't pin pointed what it is that niggles at me. I think essentially the problem is that I attach 'genius' in other areas of human endeavour such as science or music or literature, to advancement. To pushing forward into new frontiers; to problem solving, to presenting the world in a different way. I suppose Cubism might meet those criteria, but a lot of Picasso's work seems purely derivative of existing art work and artists (e.g. Duchamp, Cezanne, Matisse, and especially African art and children's art) and he worked backwards into flatness, primitivism and naivety. He was certainly innovative and good at seeing and pulling together different visual stimuli into new combinations.


If you're into Art and Painting in particular, read on.

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review 2015-07-25 17:13
Pre-Order, check
Portraits - John Berger,Tom Overton

Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley, courtesy of Verso.  Book is being released October 27. 2015.


                It was my friend who introduced me to John Berger.  When I say introduce, I mean in the way every reader does; in this case, by reading Ways of seeing (which is a very thoughtful, read it).  Since then I enjoy reading Berger.  I may not always agree with him, but I always learn something new or learn to look at something, anything, a new way. 


                Portraits are a collection of Berger’s writing on artists, and by extension art.  It is arranged in chronological order by artist, so we start in the Stone Age with the paintings on Chauvet Cave and ending with Randa Mdah, who if you are like me and have no idea who she is, she was born in 1983.  The chapter about her work is mediation, among other things, on the Israel and Palestinian conflict.


                And that is what makes this book interesting as well as what makes Berger so accessible and so wonderful for a reader like me.  I enjoy art, and I love going to museums, but I am not, in any way shape or form, an art historian or critic.  I love the work of Parrish for his color and his illustration, Toulouse Lautrec is awesome because of his horses, the same with Stubbs but with the addition of dogs.  One of my favorite paintings in the National Gallery in Washington DC is of the New Kirk in Amsterdam.  I like it because the artist has a sense of humor – there is a dog taking a piss in the corner.    I love Whistler, but not his mother – his etchings are where it is at.  Well, those and the Peacock Room.


                In short, I do not think (and most likely I am wrong) that Berger would condemn me, as some have, when I say something like my favorite painting in Montreal’s art museum is “We Were the First that Ever Burst the Silent Sea” by John Macallan Swan because it is of polar bears.  Because I see something new and different every time I look at, and it brings me peace.


"we were the first that ever burst into the silent sea" by John Macallan Swan (1847-1910). Oil on panel, about 1900. At the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts


                Berger understands that for each person art is in some ways different.  This is way the essays about artists are constructed in different ways.  Many times, it is about a response to that art, a personal response.  Therefore, when writing about Antonello de Messina, Berger recounts a story about a guard, or when writing about Mantega, it becomes a conversation with his daughter.  There is something charming about these, and despite the personal nation and structure of these chapters, there is so much packed into them.


                It’s also hard not to like a book where Berger can say that Michelango’s Sibyls are really men in drag (he’s right).  There is a beautiful section on Monet that will make readers weep.  His comments on Goya and flesh are startling, but when you think about them and study a few paintings by Goya, it’s hard not to agree with Berger, whom himself finds that aspect hard to put into words. 


                The book is also about discovery, for he does either introduce artists that one hasn’t heard of or (and) new ways of looking at things.  His decision to not include color reproductions of the art seems strange at first (especially when dealing with say Matisse), but makes sense as the book goes on (especially with Matisse).  Perhaps some readers will wonder what about choices, in particular those that are left out – but if this is a personal museum, it really doesn’t matter.  Quite frankly, I like having my horizons broadened by the inclusion of less well known artists.


                In short, if you are even a little bit interested in art, read this.  It is at once the view of critic/historian but written with the view of the everyday viewer.  The “no nothing”.  Loved it.




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review 2015-02-07 12:56
Climate Peril: The Intelligent Reader's Guide to Understanding the Climate Crisis by John J Berger
Climate Peril: The Intelligent Reader's Guide to Understanding the Climate Crisis - John J. Berger
bookshelves: winter-20142015, net-galley, nonfiction, e-book, environmental-issues, epic-proportions, sciences, published-2014
Read from January 28 to February 04, 2015


Description: Climate Peril portrays the radically altered world we will create in 2100 A.D. if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced and documents the rapid and unnatural climate change already taking place. The book explores all major consequences of climate change, especially its astonishing impacts on the economy, human health,other species, and the oceans. Among other awesome risks, Climate Peril describes the billions of tons of carbon lurking in ocean sea beds and thawing permafrost and the global danger of crossing a threshold beyond which catastrophic climate changes become inevitable.

Opening: WHERE WE ARE HEADING ONCE AND FOR ALL: Prepare yourself for some bad news. I promise I'll try to make it brief. I'm going to take you on a whirlwind tour to see what our world will be like in less than 90 years, if present climate abuse continues and greehouse gas emission thus continue their current growth.

I have a fair amount of climate change items on my desk at the present, however they tend to be of specific subjects. This is a great overview, putting many angles into perspective, and the future really does look a scary place even if we do manage to keep under that two degree cap.

Incase you are wondering about the opening's extravagant rhetoric, 'Climate Peril' does calm down and become informative rather than distracting, however the stastics, economics and region focus is US-centric so of little use elsewhere

At present, I am on a fracking course with Nottingham University, a subject that is completely new to me, and would have liked more information within this book on the methane and seismic problems that lays down that route. Another opinion is always welcome.

I can heartily recommend this book to Americans as a general aid to understanding what the US is up against but look elsewhere if it is another region of the world or specifics subjects you are after.
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url 2015-01-02 02:01
Nonfiction I Liked in 2014
Fire Shut Up in My Bones - Charles Blow
Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?( A Memoir)[CANT WE TALK ABT SOMETHING MOR][Hardcover] - RozChast
When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944 - Ronald C. Rosbottom
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business - Charles Duhigg
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running - Haruki Murakami
Ways of Seeing - John Berger
Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint - Nadia Bolz-Weber
Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality - Jacob Tomsky
Men We Reaped: A Memoir - Jesmyn Ward
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review 2014-06-09 21:22
You will never look a suit the same way
About Looking - John Berger

I found the early essays in this collection to be the most interesting. Honestly, I never knew that suits could be that interesting. The first essay, about animals, will at the very least get you to reconsider how you look at nature

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