Many times I have sat and wondered why the literature of the past is something that I am so drawn to and so compelled to study that I am hardly phased anymore when people ask me what I am going to do with my English/ Rhetoric major. The first three times that I read Berger's essay, however, I began to question my choice of major, too.
I was alarmed by how much effort was required to understand Berger's main points. I struggled with Berger, I think, because he has many ideas and sometimes the connections and the relevance of these ideas is unclear. He starts out by talking about the relationship between language and seeing. This seems simple enough, but quickly I was irritated by one of his seemingly irrelevant analogies. Berger reduces love to sex by saying, "When in love, the sight of the beloved has a completeness which only the act of making love can temporarily accommodate" (106). After this initial upset, the essay continued to confuse me as it explored the topics of reproduction of art, photography, and how art influences history. I am happy to say that I have a greater understanding of how Berger sees art, although I believe that his final argument in "Ways of Seeing" contradicts this, as demonstrated in And our faces, my heart, brief as photos.
Berger argues, "The art of the past no longer exists as it once did. Its authority is lost" (127). The authority that Berger is referring to is the ability of art to define one's history. He believes that a certain class of people is not able to fully appreciate art and relate it to their own lives. Berger worries that this will affect their lives in the present: "A people or 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" (127). Berger seems very pessimistic about the middle and lower classes ever being able to appreciate and find their personal history in art.