How do we begin to understand a world in which the most powerful technologies of our time are so hard to see that most of us aren’t even aware of them?
Perhaps we should look to art for guidance. More specifically, to the work of writer and critic John Berger, who didn’t just help us gain a new perspective on viewing art with his 1972 series Ways of Seeing – he also revealed much about the world in which we live. Whether exploring the history of the female nude or the status of oil paint, his landmark series showed how art revealed the social and political systems in which it was made. He also examined what had changed in our ways of seeing in the time between when the art was made and today.
The camera, he argued, had radically altered our relationship with great artworks, by severing the old masters from their original context: “By making the work of art transmittable, [the camera] has multiplied its possible meanings and destroyed its unique original meaning.”
This observation seems even more pertinent today, in our image-soaked culture, where everyone is a photographer, and digital pictures flow endlessly from machine to machine, making up not only the fabric of artistic expression but also social media, digital maps, targeted advertising and surveillance. In a world of fake news and facial recognition technology, many of the ideas in Ways of Seeing have never seemed more relevant. Which is why I have made New Ways of Seeing, a radio series which, like Berger’s original, seeks to answer the most pressing questions in art today: namely, ones around digital tools and the internet.
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Read the rest at The Guardian