#WaysofSeeing50 #JohnBerger. Day Three: Women And Art TV programme. (Parental Advisory: Only to be viewed by persons over 18 years of age) In celebration of fifty years since John Berger’s “Ways Of Seeing” was broadcast in January 1972, I welcome writers and artworkers to join and contribute with Sarah Crowson, Cy Forrest, Yvonne Marjot, Anjum Wasim Dar and me in a week long look at what he had to say, and how we might ekphrastically comment on the artworks he looked at, particularly painting and photography. It would be ideal if you could read the book beforehand, but not necessary. The challenge will run from January 9th-15th, and use the artworks he used as a prompt for each day.

Here is the Youtube link: This is age appropriate:

Tintoretto: Susannah and the Elders

She is not naked as she is.
She is naked as the spectator sees her.’

Enter; Shame 

Shoshana means lily. My white toes
glimmer through cool water. I shed my sweaty
wifely garb and slide right in, safe in my garden pool
from lustful eyes that seem to say, ‘you owe me’. Until
the sheltering leaves above me part and reveal – two old and uninvited
faces . . .
I could have died! Thank God dear Daniel saw them, and reported.

-Sarah Watkinson

The Nude in Art, or Berger’s Women

I stand in front of the mirror with my clothes off.
Don’t worry;
there won’t be a description.
I am trying to see where I fit in the parade of women
I have been watching on the screen.

The narrator says that women are obsessed with their own appearance.

The camera plays slowly over a naked woman, curled around herself,
shown tastefully at a distance,
while the nature of woman as an object is explained.
She looks vulnerable.
I wonder if she chose the pose.
I wonder if she was cold.

The narrator says that classical art showed women with mirrors
as a representation of vanity.

Although as every painter knows,
painting mirrors is a painterly trick,
as if the painter has not chosen to include the mirror
to show off what he can do
(they are almost always he).

The narrator shows the film to some women.

He asks their opinions.
He is charming, and only leads them a little.
He does not, however, tell us their names,
or who they are,
or how he knows them.

I will tell you.

Anya was his wife. Before she was his wife she was a Russian émigré
who had lived in Vienna,
was Sigmund Freud’s neighbour,
worked for the UN and spoke six languages.
After she was his wife, she still could.

Eva came to London as a child refugee in the War,
endured exile and fear,
wrote experimental and feminist fiction
about ‘Patriarchal Attitudes’
and showed not a trace of irony.

Jane was a Cambridge graduate, Socialist,
writer about women,
publisher, scholar,
Polite contributor to the debate.

Barbara, artist, communist, founder member
of the Communist Party Artists’ Group,
Seventy-six at time of filming,
Was that a flicker of frustration?

Carola was an artist. No picture is available.
No sample of her art. No record of her ideas.
Nothing but a young head,
dark, bent, low-voiced, apologetic,
speaking seldom and quietly overlooked.

Somebody decided to list their names in the credits.

Otherwise you and I would never know who they were.
When you watch the film online
the replay skips the credits
and goes straight to the next film.
I am trying not to find this ironic.

-Yvonne Marjot

Response to TV2 sarah crowson

Contemporary Advertising 16th Edition William Arens, Michael Weigold ISBN: 9781260259308 / 1260259307 / © 2021 (note, the lines are from the ad not the book itself as it is heavily copyrighted).

-Sarah Crowson

Chapter Two and Three, Women and Art

What It Feels Like To Be Human

A Golden Shovel

We set sail with Columbus in La Niña in 1492. In 1992, Sylvia
Wynter decides to work on a new interpretation of 1492. Wynter
says Columbus went ‘beyond the orthodox geography of the time’. She says
social status, desire for wealth, lust for gold makes him deconstruct
beauty and valour in Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, isolating the
girl so she’s central to a portrait and not part of the allegorical mechanisms
Botticelli intended. She’s beauty, he’s valour, surviving storms by
praying and sending a letter to Ferdinand saying belief saves him, which
keeps his rich patron happy, or he’s just lucky, we
will never know. In Ways of Seeing, John Berger shows that to continue
to isolate the girl so the bigger picture is lost, is to
believe Mandeville’s 1357 Book of Marvels and Travels, to make
a mountain of unmet urges, to kiss dragons, to make opaque
our desire to conquer damsels with too much treasure to
leave lying around in vaults in castles, to have it for ourselves
and to be lord of her and those islands we know as the
Caribbean. Mandeville doesn’t meet Hippocrates’ daughter. The reality
is there’s no Sir John Mandeville, that a travel book of
desires is constructed out of fantasies our
minds continue to trick ourselves into believing. On its own,
Berger’s gap between words and seeing reveals human agency,
self-delusion buried deeply along with
any sense of what it feels like to be human. We respect
Columbus for his valour, for his success in charting the way, to
draw a map of what it is to be Western, but his programming
ensures he doesn’t know what human is, and
being set adrift in oceans beyond ‘humanity’ ensures his reprogramming
never happens. He sails into oblivion with no sense of
how he cheats himself, blinded by potential riches our
Western world still thrives on, not facing up to his own
declining ecology, not curbing his own desires
for excess, not realising how his behaviours
are the problem, but succeeding in putting into the minds
of others how they should be transformed when we ourselves
need to be agents of change the
planet needs. So, I
set sail on this adventurous project and
wonder how to celebrate John Berger’s fifty years—the
word that comes to mind first and last is We.

-Cy Forrest

Cy says:  “A golden shovel that uses Sylvia Wynter’s call for ‘deconstruction of the mechanisms by which we continue to make opaque to ourselves the reality of our own agency with respect to programming and reprogramming of our own desires, behaviours, minds, ourselves, the I and the We’.”

I lifted it from p192 David Scott‘s The Re-Enchantment of Humanism: An Interview with Sylvia Wynter:


Bios And Links

-Yvonne Marjot

is a lost kiwi living on the Isle of Mull. Poet, author, librarian and escaped botanist: her poems are intimate and personal, and often link the natural world with mythological themes. She is especially fond of selkies.

 Her first collection, The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet, won the Britwriters Prize for Poetry in 2012. She is fascinated by the interface between human mind and the physical world, and her poems often have a scientific or mythological theme.

-Cy Forrest

is from Manchester but now living in Wiltshire. Poems in the Honest Ulsterman, IceFloe Press and The Wombwell Rainbow. Poems due to appear in Stand in 2022.

-Sarah Watkinson

is an Irish citizen, mycologist, and painter’s daughter. She lives in Oxfordshire, and has published two poetry books: Dung Beetles Navigate by Starlight, Cinnamon Press prizewinner 2017, and Photovoltaic, out this year from Graft Poetry.

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