John Berger Doesn’t Care About Women

              Mod 3Art is only successful if other people can deem it of quality. The piece in question does not have to be within specific genres for the piece to be of quality. Quality is the only piece of importance. People look at it, judge it, and then remark how much money and praise it should be worth. According to Berger, women are piece of art. However, this is not necessarily a complement as it is a fact.  “[A woman] has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to others, and ultimately how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as her success in life” (Berger 46). Men take into account what a woman does and, like a critic studying a piece of art, judges whether or not she is worth approval. If women are art and are critiqued in such a way, the critics of these works of art need to be judged just as much as the art itself.

            Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So when someone says that they like a certain thing then it is a reflection on themself rather than an actual comment of the thing. However, Berger argues that when the object is a woman than the opinion of this object is a reflection on the object itself. “Men survey women before treating them. Consequently how a woman appears to a man will determine how she will be treated” (Berger 46). This would argue that women’s pure motivation comes from approval from their male counterparts. If this were to be true then women are the most sophisticated pieces of art. They are self-aware and self-conscious works that strive to improve. They are the artist and the masterpiece. Their only purpose in life is the reaction by the viewers, in this case, the men. Even in art, when the subject is a woman, Berger describes the paintings reflecting upon themselves “She is not naked as she is. She is naked as the spectator sees her” (50). Berger was commentating on when an image becomes secular. Religion is part of everyday life and, despite separation of church and state laws, dictates even the non-secular. Therefore, the impressions of women through religious context shape how women are painted and viewed.

            Because of how women are condemned throughout history, they are treated as if they are the burdens on mankind. Even though women are the creators, they are seen as the destroyers. Sin would not exist if it were not for Eve tempting Adam. Delilah cut Samson’s beautiful locks of hair and destroyed his strength. Helen of Troy created a devastating war. Miley Cyrus twerked on Robin Thicke during the Video Music Award show. Islamic religion says women must cover themselves for modesty. Women are the law breakers. People do not like to bring up that Adam did not have to take the forbidden fruit. Samson chose Delilah to be with him. Paris picked the most beautiful woman over power and money, and by doing so stole a married woman. The song Miley danced to by Robin Thicke is about date rape. Islamic doctrine says that women are temptations and covering protects the men from such temptation. So when a piece of art is shown, Berger does not comment about how the artist, a man, wanted to paint a women, he comments about how the painted woman, an inanimate object incapable of feeling, sees herself and how she manipulates the canvas. “(On Bacchaus, Ceres, and Cupid by Von Aachen) It is true that sometimes a painting includes a male lover. But the woman’s attention is very rarely directed towards him. Often she looks away from him or looks out of the picture towards the one who considers himself her true lover—the spectator owner”(56). Berger did not state that the painter, Von Aachen painted her in this light for a specific reason. Maybe he wanted some the eyes of a woman resisting a man only to view him. Perhaps, Aachen liked how a woman could be so unobtainable because she’s in a painting yet tangible and yearning for him. Maybe he did not get enough of this look and wanted it. It’s possible that Aachen fell for a girl that he had strong feels for and wanted to paint her in this light. Without even considering these possibilities, Berger comments on the painted women’s position. Berger’s comments do not even consider the possibility of a male having fault. Berger has won several awards including the Booker Prize in 1972 for Ways of Seeing. He has written many books and is considered to be a novelist, poet, painter, and art critic. His view is important and he is well versed. Although, he is credible, his opinion is outdated. The selected chapters are enlightening but the entirety of chapter 3 is completely full of ideas that I, as a female and feminist, cannot relate nor agree to.

            When Berger brings up nudity, he briefly explains that a woman can be drawn for the artist’s pleasure rather than a statement about the drawn woman. “You paint a naked woman because you enjoy looking at her, you put a mirror in her hand and you call the painting Vanity, thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you’ve depicted for your own pleasure” (51). But then Berger goes to explain the difference between naked and nude. While one is being completely vulnerable, the other is being viewed as completely uncovered. With this, I think Berger is trying to justify judging a woman; the difference between innocently naked and condemnable nude. Therefore, even though Berger has made an acknowledgment about an artist’s intention, it is countered by explaining that a woman can be painted naked and the woman can still be judged.

            Judging by Ways of Seeing, paintings are judged more harshly than the painters or the critics. Women are the objects to be judged. Therefore, when a painting depicts a woman, this painting shall be judged just on the female depicted and nothing more. Men, critics, and painters are allowed view and make thoughts based on women’s actions. The thoughts of the actions are completely true. Motivation for any action is due to a critic or man’s approval. The approval then bases the quality of the woman. When she becomes more accepted, then she becomes more like art. And art is something to be experienced through sight.



Berger, John. “Chapter 2.” Ways of Seeing. London: British Broadcasting, 1973. 45-64. Print.


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