Episode Four

Below is the fourth installment of John Berger’s, Ways of seeing:

The final episode of Ways of Seeing centres around the topic of publicity, and its links to what Berger’s deems to be its predecessor – oil paintings.

Publicity, Berger states, persuades is to become better, richer human beings, by investing in items. Publicity relies on glamour, the state of being socially envied, publicity being the process of manufacturing it. The goddesses and nymphs of European oil painting have been replaced by the model.

Berger suggests that glamour is a relatively new concept, and that society has changed around it. He states that glamour did not exist in the time of the painting. Grace, elegance and authority all existed by they were far removed from the idea of glamour, which relies on social envy. The people who could afford oil paintings were already at the top of the social class, they did not need to aspire further. These paintings depicted what the person already owned, and created an enhanced view of the subject, what was shown directly corresponded to his or her life.

This episode highlights how closely publicity and oil painting are linked, publicity echoes the devices used in oil paintings, such as atmosphere, settings, pleasures, objects, poses, symbols of prestige, signs of love. Both mediums clearly display the tangibility of objects, they both work on the same principle of ‘you are what you have’.

Publicity however works different to oil paintings on a fundamental level, where as oil paintings showed what the owner already had, publicity appeals to a way of life we aspire to, but have not yet achieved. It suggests that if we buy what it is offering our life will be in some way different to what it is.

Berger proposed three different ‘dreams’ which publicity exploits:
1)The dream of later tonight – Everyone is surrounded by what brings pleasure, but it is you whom will bring the greatest pleasure of all

2) The skin dream – The surface you can hold and touch

3) The dream of a far away place – To travel elsewhere, conjuring images and distances without horizons.

Publicity pretends to interpret the world around us, it is its own kind of philosophical system, it shows us what could be, not like European oil painting, what we are.

Berger, J. 2012. Ways of Seeing Episode 4. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhOVdoMxYxU [Accessed: 10/06/13].


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