English Literature: DIFFICULTY PAPER

In his book Ways of Seeing, John Berger discuss several interesting arguments about the perception of art. According to Berger, art is an evidence of history, and that every art is defined differently by different people. Also, Berger argues that what we see is actually affected by what we know. Once, we know a certain information, our view of an art would be obscured by that which we already know. The lose of interpreting an art’s true value is caused by mystification, that is the process of explaining things that should have been a real evidence. Berger blame camera’s ability of reproducing artworks that caused mystification, or This, Berger argues, distorts the concept of art; it is virtually impossible for adults to restore the “innocence” with which a child looks at a visual image.

I have a hard time understanding this passage:

The idea of innocence faces two ways. By refusing to enter a conspiracy, one remains innocent of that conspiracy. But to remain innocent may also be to remain ignorant. The issue is not between innocence and knowledge (or between the natural and the cultural) but between a total approach to art which attempts to relate it to every aspect of experience and the esoteric approach of a few specialized experts who are the clerks of the nostalgia of a ruling class in decline. (In decline, not before the proletariat, but before the new power of the corporation and the state.) The real question is: to whom does the meaning of the art of the past properly belong? to those who can apply it to their own lives, or to a cultural hierarchy of relic specialists? (p.64)

I find a difficulty to comprehend what Berger is trying to imply by innocence. I cannot relate innocence to the question Berger asked, “to whom does the meaning of the art of past properly belong?”. I have no idea the connection between innocence and “people who can apply it to their own lives, or to a cultural hierarchy of relic specialists.

I suppose innocence relates to how one’s interpret an artwork. “Refusing to enter conspiracy” and “remain ignorant” means that one do not have an intention to get an insight on the artwork. Since Berger said that the problem is not between innocence or knowledge, but how understanding artwork requires one to relate it to one’s experience. Consequently, most artworks could only be understood by experts rather than every common people. Thus, those who are innocent are not those the paintings are designated. Berger then questioned if the meaning of art is supposed to belong to those who can relate art to their lives or the experts who could interpret the real value artworks. Personally, I would say that the true value of artworks should be interpreted by the experts. I think individuals have different experience thus they would explain art differently.



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