I put the fame of Ways of Seeing down as one of life’s minor mysteries; surely, it must have been felicitously timed. Now, however, the original is available on YouTube, and finally I understand. As a corollary, I now suppose that Walter Benjamin’s oft-cited Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction owes some of its fame to John Berger’s generous tip of the hat in its direction – though Berger’s point is specifically about the effect of good quality colour reproduction, a much stronger point than contrasting the visual cultural of reproductive engraving with that of black and white photography.
For once, the book is a lesser manifestation than the film. Berger’s clothing and hair may be sorely out of fashion, but his voice and the expressivity of his face would suit any decade. Eminently thoughtful without being the least pretentious or sententious, deeply subversive without being even a touch hysterical or desperate, he offers choice company. Life, which he likes to remind us provides the ultimate source of value, rarely offers a companion of such astuteness and intellectual honesty.
So many tourists have touched the Botero’s dick
It gleams like a ship’s brass bell,
Its patina circumscribed by an adoring public.
Why do so many touch its concise prick?
From “One Spot." by Daniel Bosch
I think that in Anton Chekhov’s presence every one involuntarily felt in himself a desire to be simpler, more truthful, more one’s self; I often saw how people cast off the motley finery of bookish phrases, smart words, and all the other cheap tricks with which a Russian, wishing to figure as a European, adorns himself, like a savage with shells and fish’s teeth. Anton Chekhov disliked fish’s teeth and cock’s feathers; anything ‘brilliant’ or foreign, assumed by a man to make himself look bigger, disturbed him; I noticed that, whenever he saw any one dressed up in this way, he had a desire to free him from all that oppressive, useless tinsel and to find underneath the genuine face and living soul of the person. All his life Chekhov lived on his own soul; he was always himself, inwardly free, and he never troubled about what some people expected and others—coarser people—demanded of Anton Chekhov. He did not like conversations about deep questions, conversations with which our dear Russians so assiduously comfort themselves, forgetting that it is ridiculous, and not at all amusing, to argue about velvet costumes in the future when in the present one has not even a decent pair of trousers.
Beautifully simple himself, he loved everything simple, genuine, sincere, and he had a peculiar way of making other people simple.
It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.
— Woody Allen
Art is a conversation, not a patent office. The citation of sources belongs to the realms of journalism and scholarship, not art. Reality can’t be copyrighted.
— David Shields
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