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Ways of Seeing Criticism

            If in the anti-elitist atmosphere of the 1960s still anyone believed in the idea of the artist as a genius it was Andy Warhol who thoroughly disabused them: in his latest act of devotion and surrender to America's mass culture he develops a process that enables him to photographically transfer tabloid and advertisement pictures directly on to a silkscreen, allowing not only the infinite production of the original work but also the elimination of any apparent sign of the artist's involvement. To make his point clear he then rocks the art markets by declaring (and later retracting) that some of his work was actually executed by assistants. With some delay also art historians started to shift their attention from the retualized celebration of the artist towards the role of spectators and buyers in defining the status and value of art. It is this context in which "Ways of Seeing" has been written. .
             The multitude of approaches to art suggested by the book's title is also reflected in its composition - if that is the word. Although consisting of numbered essays (both verbal as well as entirely pictorial) Berger explicitly advises the reader (the text begins in a whimsical and refreshing way already on the book's jacket) to go through them in whatever order he pleases, his principal aim merely being "to raise questions". This rather capricious approach somewhat obscures the unifying - and certainly unsettling - theme of the work: instead of examining what art does to us it asks about what we - as spectators, critics, patrons, owners and buyers - are doing to art. It is about the ways in which art serves to legitimize, sustain and conceal social inequality. The central aspects are: class, gender and consumerism. .
             To set the stage for his study, that tellingly is confined to representational art, Berger first dismisses the traditional approach of art history as mystification. Concepts of aesthetics - and in particular those of composition - he argues, have inserted themselves between spectators and paintings to obscure and obstruct any immediate perception of the social content of pictures.

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