Being John Berger

by Christos Polydorou


How do we look at a work of art?
Just look at it.

Begin to strip away its household name,
what you’ve been told about it, your assumptions,

even its artist. Engage with the image,
as though it is another person.
How deeply do you engage?

Engage deeper.

This painting will not hurt you.
Swim in every detail.
Dive to the seabed of every brush stroke.

Art comes
with so many assumptions
and even vanities.But genius makes the complex simple.

Was Da Vinci actually
painting himself? Did I cry
when I first saw Pablo Picasso’s
Mother and Child
at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1997
or did I not cry?

How did I honestly feel, reading about a painting
in a book (Ali Smith’s How To Be Both), and finding
that painting in the National Gallery?

How is it that art and life overlap?

Which precedes which?

How is art just art when it opens our eyes
to the world we were unable to see before we looked at art?

John Berger’s Way of Seeing, for example, showed us
that advertisements on billboards for example drew
their power by imitating paintings. Did Manet ever
hope, in his depiction of the divine, that it would
one day be replicated to sell cigarettes?

The rich, the book (and subsequent BBC4 documentary,
starring John Berger himself, something which had never been done –
remember, Berger trained as an artist) stated, rely
on a state of social envy. In a post-Trump universe, we
no longer envy the rich.

I feel bad, for John Berger. The final year,
of his life was 2016. Everything,
he saw in his final year
almost killed any of us.

Bowie.

Brexit.

Berger.

Now we’re done with 2016; like Y2K, there was an overlap (perhaps).

Includes an image I drew last night.

 

 

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