Marxian and Feminist Theories – John Berger’s Way of Seeing

Edwards and Woods (2013) stated that it is difficult to pin down feminism because it is not a singular disclosure. The position, as well as parameter of feminism, can loosely map as it is under continual negotiation. Visual culture enclosed elusive category and it offers the method of analysis. Stuart Hall was foundational figure through the abiding link to Marxian and analysed the structure of society based on cultural specificity. The rise of visual culture for specific discourse resulted in the bias towards textual analysis. The biases related to the context took theoretical impetus from Marx as well as semiotics and in-depth textual analysis done by scholars Roland Barthes in 1950s.

Ward (2015) added that British scholars Hall and Raymond Williams advanced cultural studies and thus, cultural studies took democratising impulse and address problem of visuality. The feminism defining political impetus includes postcolonial, anti-racist and gay/lesbian theory. The latter influence has pushed visual culture beyond cultural studies and offers deeply informed the critical model of visual analysis in the discipline of art history and photographic/film studies. According to Mirzoeff (1999) visual culture allows exploring the meaning of images in across disciplines and it is useful to understand meaning and conception in visual relation.

This essay analyses and evaluates BBC series ‘Way of Seeing’ anchored and written by John Berger based on profound content in contemporary feminist and political artwork and analyse the after-effect of Berger’s interpretation from such milestone TV series.

BBC Series — Ways of Seeing

More Than 40 years ago, BBC on air a series of 30-minute four films, which was anchored and written by John Berger and was later, adapted into the book. The series became postmodernist landmark critique of the western aesthetics culture and explored how visual culture dominates society as well as elaborated how visual image are useful to create and transfer ideologies. The contribution of series was the discussion for the role of media in terms of shaping women and gender politics as subject (Jay, 2012).

John Berger’s Way of Seeing

John Berger (1972) epochal study based on fine art images ‘Ways of Seeing’ stated that what we know or believe is affected by the way we see things. Therefore, Berger added the way to conceive the meaning of visual images as the process to exchange based on the image as well as for viewer belief develop the way according to individual interpretation. Moreover, Keith Moxey elaborated visual image beyond conventional art notion and stated that it involves wilful intention of the artist through sign system for which past is invested for the meaning of the present (Bryson, 2013).

Moreover, Laura Mulvey publication in 1975 ‘Visual pleasure and narrative Cinema’ focused on the feminist critique of visual culture and highlight the centrality of feminism for visual culture. Mulvey and Berger both used feminist theory to analyse visual images and not just narrative power relation to evaluating conditions of distribution and formal structure. These studies explored gender explicitly and suggested feminism and visual culture is based on mutually weighted relationship (Mulvey, 2003).

Four Themes in John Berger’s Way of Seeing

Episode 1

In the first episode of series, John Berger explored the impact of photography to examine appreciation of art from the past. The Berger’s vision for art was inspired from Walter Benjamin, a Marxist scholar and Way of seeing revolutionised the way generation look at art. The idea was a reproduction of painting separates the context in painting was created and modern context. The way of seeing has taken mass media like Barthes in mythologies and pointed that mass culture is difficult to ignore (Merrifield, 2013).

Andreas Huyssen stated that modernist is the result of resistance and conquest. To lure mass culture and please the larger audience based on suppression to demand everything is being modern. Mechanical production destroys the image and i.e. object needs go fetishized to compensate the loss (Mears, 2014).

Analysis of John Berger's Ways of Seeing

Jones (1998) discussed the psychoanalytic model to elaborate identity, meaning formation for presentation to link the growing awareness in the image-saturated culture in the same context as Guy Debord and Jean Baudrillard. The cultural of stimulation effect and process analysed by Marxist critique Debord is examined from the singular omniscient perspective. The first part argued the issue on the artwork and mechanical reproduction ageing and the relationship between the old master and the modern art. The assumption in the scenario is rationalism and if we follow one mode and disclosure at a time, the world is comprehensible otherwise heterogeneity destroys reflections.

Analysis of John Berger's Ways of Seeing

Bortoft (2012) explained that Peggy Phelan performance theory presented an analysis of photography and moving arts. The politics identity relies on the notion of visibility and social power. Berger highlighted that vacuum in the art history result in few aesthetic elements and thus, radical image transformation is necessary to provide valuable meaning to art. Moreover, episode dares to take critique on group portrait of Franz Hals because benefactors who save Hals by feeding in starvation and review it for poor composition (Mary Kelly –chapter 12). Berger added that consumption is a substitute and it articulate dissent for democracy.

Berger mock ‘Caravaggio’ (Human spirit and nothing between) and discussed the group of children who spotted the epicene ambiguity as central figure and thus stated that Caravaggio was gay (Merrifield, 2013).

Analysis of John Berger's Ways of Seeing

Episode 2

Mathews (2014) elaborated that the second episode of series expounded the nude female portrayal in the context of traditional European art. The second episode was based on nude female and had interesting narcissism to highlight how men dream women as well as women dream of themselves to dream to contextualise the differences between nudity and nakedness.

The postmodernism has changed the way to analyse culture but way of seeing is no Marxist representation as explained by Benjamin and Barthes. Men blame women for intimacy and desire but have tendency to desire women highlighting institutionalised misogyny of our culture.  Berger references the scenario of biblical tale of exclusion from Eden and includes group discussion to articulate women based on work of Eva Figes (Dant and Gilloch, 2002).

New feminism is the idea that women have the independent powers, perspectives and roles of the equal worth and dignity as the man has, which enhance the new concept that women have their own biological and cultural feature. The book ‘sexual political’ written by Kate Millets as well as ‘The Female Eunuch’ by Germaine Geer showed the one facet of feminism.

Analysis of John Berger's Ways of Seeing

Riley (2015) highlighted that the representation of nude women in oil painting in the Berger series was complemented with work of Griselda Pollock and Linda Nochlin. The new facet of feminism that further contributed by Lynda Neads in article ‘Representation, Sexuality and the nude female’ has shown the example of feminism respond to John Berger series and highlighted that how the image of nudity structure sexuality.

Nead improves her work based on Berger argument to explain nude is seen as part of the process to structure nudity. The phallocentric knowledge has led to tendency of treating painting of nude women through reflection of Victorian sexuality (Kuhn, 2013).

Analysis of John Berger's Ways of Seeing

Episode 3

The episode of series examined the invention of oil painting, which offers the greater degree of realism. Oil painting and analysed it formative role in creating the consumer culture. The episode showed that painting before anything else, objects to sold and bought and i.e. admonishing the wary of love for the art’. There is the relationship between the property and sealable object, which embed the fate of property and value of the object (Bradley and Esche, 2007).

Analysis of John Berger's Ways of Seeing

According to Berger, consumer society is based on the culture of publicity and images propagate the belief of society itself. As Marxist, Way of Seeing discusses gender rare instance, which makes it highly atypical. The theories of visuality through reproduction of new images (Griselda Pollack –chapter 23, Judith Barry and Mary Ann Doane) highlight that woman distant themselves on heterosexist photography through femininity mask (Jones, 2003).

Bradley and Esche (2007) stated that political artwork considered as the combination of the contemporary art and the transition to post-democracy. Obviously, the function of artwork includes the beauty and function. Various kinds of oil paintings to reflect the status and conditions of the individual art workers and nude oil painting of women reduce it as the object of male gaze but it remains important to define male and female power relation.

John Berger emphasis on the nudity as a mechanism to describe the feature of women, and show the tendency to result in different elements involved in the social status. The Feminist artwork was represented and transferred to the modernism, which raises the status of women artwork comparing the same condition with men, with a separate feminine stereotype. Berger discredits Kenneth Clark ‘The Nude’ and reveal need to address the feminist issue. A nude painting regarded as the destined object involved into the film (Mirzoeff, 1999).

Clark (1985) analysed that realism of oil painting in the film can remind the audience of the reality of the feminist by observation vividly. However, Kelly used Freudian model of analysis and added that fetishism is issue of male perversion and resisting male gaze raise issue of spectator female.

Episode 4

The fourth episode of series investigated the role of publicity as well as advertisement compared to the tradition of painting. The ‘world of advertisement’ to analyse perpetual promise made for an alternative way of life which is transmitted using the language of images and narratives. Berger argument to politicise through stating that mystification of art forbids the access directly to art in the past. The diabolical conspiracy proposed by Berger presented within art history  (Peaker, 1998).

The social practices and ideology extending through hegemony and thus advertising promote social conditions acceptance based on our interminable present. The imagery future based on the promise of advertising remained in continual deferral, which makes consumerism an alternative to democracy. Feminist application in advertisement and other public areas can be regarded as progress and the enhancement of the social viewpoint on the status of the women in the world, resulting from the new look of the sexual opinions (Highmore, 2012).

Analysis of John Berger's Ways of Seeing

Kenneth Clark and Berger shared contemporary society view but Clark believes laments declines while Berger focused on improvised culture. Berger highlights repressive function inherited and takes publicity as the pessimistic perspective of the consumer. Berger politicised art and image liberated from an object has become a possession of cultural elite. Fuller argued that Berger relies on crude reflections and give no thought for reproducing ideology (Meecham and Sheldon, 2013).

In addition, Hadjinicolaou (1978) extend the argument of Berger and suggest that pictures are inextricable for class struggle and take account of non-artists such as economics and ideology.

The actual image from the series shows the impact of personal and regional style to relate formal and thematic element of pictures to express living condition and ideology of social class. Advertising and other publicity can be useful tools to broadcast such modern ideology (Crooke, 2013).

Analysis of John Berger's Ways of Seeing


There is a clear relationship between feminist and Berger TV series and documentary revolutionised the way generation look at art. The politics identity relies on the notion of visibility and social power. The idea of feminism that women have power, equality and dignity as the man has, which enhance the new concept that women have their own biological and cultural feature.

Berger added the truth of women to demonstrate its own value, which is much different from men’s point. The realism of oil painting in the film can remind the audience of the reality of the feminist by observation vividly.

The reproduction of images commercially and politically allows disguising the identity as well as denies their existence. To lure mass culture and please the larger audience based on suppression to demand everything is being modern. Feminist and political artwork shall promote the appearance rate in the public area, to stimulate the higher political condition for women in the world, with increasing power to create more diversified feminist artworks. Publicity is the life of the capitalism culture and it survival is essential for publicity capitalism.

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