Beyond Ways of Seeing: The Media Criticism of John Berger
By Philip Bounds
It is not very long since the art critic John Berger was one of the most public faces of Media and Cultural Studies in Britain (Dyer, 1986; Fuller 1988). His television series Ways of Seeing, broadcast on the BBC in 1972 and accompanied by a bestselling book, did an enormous amount to popularise the distinctive outlook of a new generation of radical intellectuals. Intended as a riposte to Kenneth Clark’s highly influential series Civilisation (Clark, 1971), its main purpose was to challenge the connoisseurial approach to the visual arts which Clark had come to exemplify. Commanding the screen with his memorable blend of radical earnestness and intellectual passion, Berger scandalised what he called the ‘Cultural Establishment’ by discussing painting and sculpture alongside such despised media forms as advertisements, glossy magazines and pornography. He also made it clear that his interest in culture was primarily political, promulgating an innovative Marxist perspective on the relationship between visual images and existing power structures.
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