Sunday, September 9, 2012

Reading Response: "Ways of Seeing"

Reading Culture (p. 207-216)
Reading Response
“Ways of Seeing” by John Berger

In “Ways of Seeing,” John Berger attempts to explain the cultural construction of advertisement as visual representation pertaining to gender. Berger argues that art is a representation of the world around us and that the images we see of women today originate from the tradition of the “nude” in older European art. To start, Berger notes that the social presence of men and women is very different and has evolved to be that way. He states that, “Men act and women appear.” Berger also explains that the way we view things is determined by what we already know- thus he questions if the true meaning of an image has been disguised over time (because of photographic reproduction and changing cultural construction). He explains that portraying “nude” in older art objectified women and has become a tradition. Berger also establishes a connection between art and ownership by examining how men are the primary spectators of any image and modern advertisements attempt to appeal to them. The portrayal of a woman has always been different than that of a man.
Homework Question:
Berger identifies the cultural construct of the social presence difference between men and women in advertisement. He explains the history behind how the visual representation of each gender arrived at where it is today. I feel that, even though the “art” we see today is very different than oil paintings and nude imagery, advertisement does portray men and women differently. In most cases the main spectators are men, so the femininity of a woman is greatly objectified and emphasized in those ads. However, in cases where women are the main spectators, advertisements direct all attention to masculinity and more importantly how men look at women.
Nearly all advertisements today play on this presence difference. Whether it be a commercial, a billboard, or a movie trailer- all media try to appeal to their main audience. Men are, and always have been, flattered by women and that’s why seeing their femininity is appealing. Women know they are being looked at, so viewing a masculine figure looking back at them is appealing. I think the cultural construct about advertisement that Berger has described is spot on for visual representation, and can also be converted into textual representation (meaning that appealing things can be written and perceived by a given audience, too).


  1. Stephanie--
    Your summaries are very thorough and you explained the Berger text with unparalleled clarity! The homework question does a great job reversing the male and female roles. Could you point to any advertisements where women are the active spectators? Pushing just a bit further, you parallel textual and visual representations. How do the visual texts fit in our meta-theme about constructs? We discuss rhetorical constructs...what other constructs do these readings expose?

    1. Some advertisements where women are the active spectators could be something like a "chick-flick" movie preview or even a perfume ad. For the movie preview, an attractive guy could be chasing after the main female character. This would be appealing for women because of the way a man looks to a woman. The same goes for a female-product ad. A male model could be pursuing the female in the ad that used the product. Thus, the spectating women will want to be the woman in the ad.
      This reading, as well as the McCloud reading, stray away from completely rhetorical constructs and explore more into specifics of art and visualization constructs and how they are important to a reader and a writer.

  2. Great job pushing the idea further.

    1. Thank you for pushing in the right direction!