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Geoff Dyer in Ways of Telling: The Work of John Berger:

The series Ways of Seeing was first broadcast in the Spring of 1972 on BBC2 late in the evening. The audience was small but since the ‘switch-off rate’ was extraordinarily low (i.e. once people began watching they continued till the end), the makers of the series were able to persuade the BBC to broadcast it again at prime time. The influence of the series and the book that Berger wrote after this hesitant start was enormous. Throughout the 1970s it was the key text in art colleges in Britain and in the USA; for many students and teachers alike it represented a turning point in their thinking about art. It opened up for general attention areas of cultural study that are now commonplace – decoding advertisements, for example – but which in 1972 were either virtually unknown or existed only in embryonic stage within the academy. (Many of the ideas of the series had already appeared in articles and essays by Berger: it is the transition to television and best-selling paperback that is important.) Taken together as Peter Fuller has said, the series and the book have had ‘a greater influence than any other art critical project of the last decade’, and probably, I would add of the post-war period.

The world, of course, has changed. And (in terms of my own personal interest in the idea) literature is much less photogenic than art. What are you could to fill the screen with, a Powerpoint presentation of lines of poetry? But still, Berger and his Ways of Seeing represent an instance of popularization without selling out, writing for the market. Can’t help but wonder if a similar sort of endeavor might be possible today, what it would take, what it would cost etc…

Written by adswithoutproducts

August 15, 2006 at 10:46 pm

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