Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The critic who changed our view of the art – Svenska Dagbladet

John Berger (1926-2017) in “Ways of seeing”, BBC 1972. Photo: IBL

have the way managed to bring together the artist and the writer’s gaze, John Berger, in essays, novels, tv and film contributed to a perspective that radically broke with her time, the established view of art. Berger, who died at the age of 90 on Monday, was himself an incipient artist when he on the advice of a friend played in a series for the BBC, which, in turn, led to the fact that he was active as an art critic for the New Statesman. Bergers style was controversial – often he lifted up artists that get heard about, which is not prevented Berger himself from becoming a household name in art criticism.

John Bergers marxist belief (for his first book of essays bar the deliberately provocative title of "Permanently red") contributed to the fact that he became a controversial figure in the Uk. But even if he distanced himself from marxism as a system of government, he remained a devoted socialist, both in his writing and in private, an attitude that also characterizes his literary work. The debut, "A painter of our time", came in 1958 and revolves around a Hungarian artist’s return to Budapest during the 1956 revolution.

the Novel "G." (1972, in English in 1985 in the translation of Nils A. Bengtsson) was Bergers literary breakthrough and awarded several prizes, including the booker prize. When the committee found out that John Berger intended to donate half the prize money for the british part of the Black panther party reacted with dismay: Berger was offered double the prize money if he agreed to give half to a less controversial organization, a proposal which he kindly declined.

"G.", which takes place during the later half of the 1800s and revolves around the Don Juan-as Giovanni, was commended for its innovative style, where each chapter can seem to be a kind of painted tableau. Dagbladet’s reviewer Caj Lundgren, wrote that, although the mixture between the romandikt and political history could let krystad, so does the wealth of ideas that the not at all appear to be so – "Reflections commute breathtaking between it and a kind of pardon naivety that can bring the idea to Stendhal: Berger has a sense of style that makes the reading thoroughly enjoyable." (SvD 20/9-85).

John Berger stood for a radical view on the art, which in many ways challenged the usual interpretations. In the successful BBC program "Ways of seeing", which aired in 1972 and made Berger famous far beyond the art world, he tried to bring back the audience’s eyes to a kind of naked vision. In the book of the same title, which has become a standard work on the art academies, he criticized art history "mystifiering" of well-known works:

"the people of the book art mystifieras because a privileged minority is striving to invent a history which, in retrospect, justify the ruling class ‘ role, and such a justification is no longer valid in a modern society," he wrote. In contrast, he showed the child, who unaware of the konsthistoriernas "correct" interpretations, had the ability to see the work with undisguised gaze.

1973, the year after the success with "G.", chose John Berger to leave the Uk and settle in the French Quincy. He had never been happy with the big cities and was fascinated by the self-sufficient agricultural life in the small village. Aware that the way of life that had characterized human existence for thousands of years was about to disappear, he said, like to devote the rest of his life to observe the village’s transformation.

It resulted partly in the trilogy "Into their labor" (in English, "Check their work", the translation of Steve Sem-Sandberg), if the rural slow pace of transposition in the city, the documentary "The seasons in Quincy" by, among others, Tilda Swinton, who follows John Bergers the last time in the village.


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