Saturday, December 31, 2011

We take on the view of artists - themes from John Berger

John Berger explores the idea that the outcome of a story is less about the arc of the story and more about the continuation of the artist's way of seeing that is communicated to the reader or the viewer of an art work ... the extent to which that perspective continues in the mind of the reader ...what the artist attends to and how that attention is conveyed to the reader ...what is observed and what is ignored ... what holds the attention an what is skipped over.
"In following a story, we follow a storyteller, or, more precisely, we follow the trajectory of a storyteller's attention, what it notices and what it ignores, what it lingers on, what is repeats, what considers irrelevant, what it hurries towards, what is circles, what it brings together. Throughout the story we become accustomed to the storyteller's particular procedure of bestowing attention, and of then making a certain sense of what was at first glance chaotic. We begin to acquire his storytelling habits. .. something of its way of paying attention will remain with us and become our own." John Berger, Bento's Sketchbook, page 72

Stepping into a painting
One of the things that John Berger notices is how a person seen in a painting is relating to the artist ...what a viewer might read in the eyes of the subject that informs us of the love or hate or indifference of the two to each other ... What places us in the time and place of the artist and subject ... the time of day, the economic stresses, the personal and social history.
"In the Dutch part of the collection, we passed drunken peasants, a woman reading a letter, a birthday party, a brothel scene, a Rembrandt, and a canvas by one of his pupils. I moved on and then quickly came back to look at it several times.
"This pupil of Rembrandt was called Willem Drost. He was probably born in Leiden. ... We don't know where or when he died.
"She is not looking a the spectator. She is looking hard at a man she desired, imagining him as her lover. This man could only have been Drost. The only thing we know for certain about Drost is that he was desired precisely by this woman.
"I was reminded of something of which one is not usually reminded in museums. To be so desired - if the desire is also reciprocal - renders the one who is desired fearless. Not suit of armour from the galleries downstairs ever offered, when worn, a comparable sense of protection. To be desired is perhaps the closest anybody can reach in this life to feeling immortal." John Berger, Bento's Sketchbook, pages 26-27

John Berger .. a book and its ripples

My year-end vacation started with a late lunch at the Art Institute and then a wandering path home .. up Michigan Avenue then on the the L from Chicago to Belmont. At Unabridged Books, I picked up John Berger's "Bento's Sketchbook - How does the impulse to draw something begin?" I carried it around the store as I browsed other books, thinking it would be a good gift for my mother. The more I carried it around, the more I got to thinking that I would read it myself. Something about the design of the book, its abundance of drawings and my longstanding relationship as a reader of his books kept calling to me. On my way to the checkout counter, I picked up a blank sketchbook, deciding that 2012 might be the year I  learned to draw.