John Berger's 'Ways of Seeing' The Power of Image

Updated: Jul 29, 2020

Questions on John Berger's 'Ways of Seeing'

Andy Warhol - ' Marilyn Monroe

1- How do adverts located in the city (billboards for example) differ from adverts online? Is one more visual than the other? Is one more imaginative?

As you wonder the streets, advertisement is everywhere in high dense messages and visuals on newspapers, in streets as you turn to a corner, on vehicles, on billboards or on television. The ads on the street are much bigger, brighter and quicker for you to catch an eye while walking. They become much more imaginative referring to the past but talking about the future. Publicity offers the person an image of himself made glamorous by the product which makes that person envious of themselves of who they might be. The happiness of being envied is glamour. The envied are like bureaucrats; the more impersonal they are greater the illusion of their power. (authority, happiness)

2- How does advertising work? Why does it make us desire certain products?

Advertising is made in a quite smart way. A person seeing an Ad may notice a particular piece or information because it corresponds with their own interests. The fact that the ads belong to the moment but speak of the future produces an effect of familiarity to the viewer. Familiar objects create more desire to buy and have that certain products. Adverts proposes to us that we transform ourselves, our lives by buying something more. Publicity is known as the process of manufacturing glamour. Where it feeds among the real life, always about the future buyer. The purpose of publicity is to make the spectator dissatisfied with their current way of life. It suggests that if the person buys a certain product his life will become better.

3- Advertising is often regarded as a quite modern form of image production. Do you think renaissance paintings and sculptures were a type of advertising?

There are many direct references in publicity and advertisement to works of art in the past. Publicity images often use sculptures or paintings to ~end allure or authority to their own message. Framed oil paintings often hang in shop windows as part of their display. Art was known as a sign of affluence and good life, a world for the rich. A work of art also suggests a cultural authority, cultural heritage (dignity, wisdom). A reminder of what it means to be a cultivated European denoting wealth and spirituality where the product being purchased is luxury and a notion of cultural value. The language of the painting is also key in publicity. It speaks in the same voice about the same things. The language in advertisement and paintings are very similar that it is very hard to differentiate.

4- What does Berger mean when he writes ‘sell the past to the future’ on page 139?

“Publicity is nostalgic, it has to sell the past to the future.” It cannot itself supply the standards of its own claims. And so, all its references to quality are bound to be retrospective and traditional, it would lack both confidence and credibility if it used a strictly contemporary language. As we know, past is familiar, easy to understand and adapt to then the future. People enjoy nostalgic products since it’s easier to relate and understand. They turn nostalgic products to a more futuristic take, making the customers believe it has a difference but not much changes. For instance, mythology, poetry can he used in the manufacturing of glamour. Cigars can be sold in the name of a King, underwear in connection with the Sphinx, a new car by reference to the status of a country house. Thus, the oil painting was naturally painted in the present tense. The painter painted what was before him, either in reality or in imagination. The publicity image which is ephemeral uses only the future tense. With this you will become desirable, in these surroundings all your relationships will become happy and radiant.

5- How does advertisement imagery relate to anxiety? Does it make anxiety worse?

All publicity works upon anxiety. The sum of everything is money, to get money is to overcome anxiety. Money is the token of every human capacity. It is power to spend money as much as you like.

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