The Sense of Art: In memoriam John Berger
Publisher: International Socialism Journal
Date Written: 05/04/2017
Year Published: 2017
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX21108
In memoriam of the British writer and lecturer John Berger.
Berger's answer was trenchant -- art "makes sense of what life's brutalities cannot, a sense that unites us, for it is inseparable from justice at last". He spoke without the patrician academic hauteur of Clark, the friend of royalty whose biography, written by the ex-chairman of Sotheby's James Stourton, has just been published. The tone of Berger's presentation was conversational, an invitation to dialogue, to find a shared, democratic language in speaking about art. It was a definitive parting of the ways.
Where Clark unveiled the secrets of the work, seeing each one as a kind of puzzle to be solved, and stressing its unique, unassailable qualities, Berger began from the "seeing". The work, any work, finds meaning in the space between the observer and the observed; what Clark saw as a member of the upper bourgeoisie, an inheritor of wealth born out of slavery (his family traded in cotton) and an Oxford graduate was not at all the same as someone from a wholly different background. Each time we look we bring to bear our memories, our values, our social experience: "The world as it is is more than pure objective fact; it includes consciousness The art of the past is mystified because a privileged minority is striving to invent a history which can retrospectively justify it".