ColetteB….

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#Author-story ~ Contemporary Writer #3

John Berger, born 5th November 1926, died 2nd January, 2017

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There’s something in this page shown above that is very resonant of work seen during British Art Show7 in 2011, particularly those shown at Nottingham Castle. So maybe one day I’ll tie up some loose threads and get something down. For now, this post is a re-working of a draft from January that was almost lost to the ether in some kind of failing / crash.

Why ‘Ways of Seeing’?

[Originally, I drafted this writing for an ‘Authors who made history’ post for BW so this fact was pivotal:]

For many years now, John Berger’s book, ‘Ways of Seeing’, has been on the compulsory reading list of almost every British art and design course. I’d either somehow missed that fact back in my art student daze, or glanced it over and dismissed it out of hand. During a W.E.A. class a few years ago now (how time flies!) I spent a while browsing this book in the gallery reading room. I still couldn’t quite see WHY is it such an important text in relation to appreciating or creating art? Sadly, I remained completely oblivious to his other works as a poet, writer and artist until researching for this post following news of his death.

I appreciated it- ‘Ways of Seeing’ –  better, from a distance, via some limited preview chapters in an online PDF. The book was developed following the BBC’s four-part television series presented by John Berger and credited with changing the way the nation received, or thought about, art and art history.  I had never even heard mention of the television programme until I saw it was the basis of the book. Apparently the programme may be available to purchase as a video download, although even so these days UK viewers will still need a TV licence. I don’t know if that means such products are with-held from consumers elsewhere in the world.

It’s said to be based on and influenced by Walter Benjamin’s essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction[wikipedia link].

“The most uplifting thing about Ways of Seeing is Berger’s optimism about the age of the mass-circulating reproduced image, which, back in 1972, meant images in newspapers and magazines, on advertising hoardings and television. These days of course it also means on Facebook, Instagram and the internet at large. …”

[quoting Jonathon Jones in his article discussing Berger’s language of images at The Guardian, published 3rd January, 2017]

Here’s a small excerpt from page 150 of Ways of Seeing, where, in relation to publicity, Berger tells us:

“…The world smiles at us. It offers itself to us. And because everywhere is imagined as offering itself to us, everywhere is more or less the same.”

In the BBC Radio 4 programme, Front Row, broadcast 3rd January 2017, writer/broadcaster Lisa Appignanesi and art critic Richard Cork discuss Berger’s work (audio file still available to listen at time of writing opens, at approx. 21minutes with an audio clip of John Berger speaking. The second link skips to that segment, or to see programme info and listen to the whole 28min+ click the first link.

 

After serving two years with the army from 1944 to 1946, assumedly compulsory conscription, in the late 1940s Berger trained as an artist at the Chelsea School of Art and the London School of Art; he exhibited in London and taught drawing until 1955. His first novel, ‘A Painter of Our Time’ was published in 1958 and his first published collection of essays, ‘Permanent Red’, in 1960. Among other awards in his lifetime, he is probably best known for controversially donating half his Booker Prize fund to the Black Panther Party after his novel ‘G’ was selected for the prize in 1972.

“For me there were too many political urgencies to spend my life painting. Most urgent was the threat of nuclear war – the risk of course came from Washington, not Moscow.”

John Berger quoted in an article by Michael Glover published at the Independent on 3rd January, 2017.

There are lots of articles about John Berger to be found online and the British Library archive for John Berger and the wikipedia entry for his bio and list of works could keep me (or you) .out of mischief for an interesting while enough.

I haven’t yet bought a copy of ‘Ways of Seeing’, I’m still thinking about it, maybe until one shows up at a knock-down price I can’t refuse. I did however buy Berger’s 2016 book, ‘Confabulations'[ISBN:9780141984957], published in October by Penguin shortly before Berger turned 90 years of age, sadly not in time to help the old man out with some return. I might well journey in exploration of those delightful writings, and more, another time.

A final quote to close, from the first page of the text in John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, at page 7:

“The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.” [John Berger, Ways of Seeing]

 

 


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Reblog – my guest post at BW, re: Helen keller

my post at BW re Helen keller

There’s no reblog button now to share my post from Blogger’s World, so my screenshot pic will have to do for a preview, full post at http://wp.me/p6Cbfo-34v … the partial photo shows the young Helen Keller (left) with her governess Anne Sullivan, in 1988. 

(This post isn’t repeating text from my BW-feature, it’s me rambling about my process adn focussing on a couple of particular excerpts of Helen Keller’s writing.)

I really enjoyed researching for this weeks #authorstory post. I included some resource links, the ABF Helen Keller archive, articles and recommended some video links too. But I most enjoyed reading some of Helen Keller’s work, so much so, that I made my first public podcasts, reading excerpts from a couple of pieces of her writing. If you can spare a few minutes to have a listen and like to hear attempted readings of poetry and prose, I’d love to receive feedback and criticisms are very welcome 🙂

I also thought that a couple of audio files might be assistive for visually impaired readers, so recorded and uploaded those to my post (part 1 approx 10mins, part 2 approx 5 mins). Then decided that I needed to provide transcripts too, as pages hosted at my other blog, The Wishing WellNote to self:  work still to do at that transcript! As well as sorting out the pre-formatted text formatting in the top section, there’s a paragraph repeated in part ii of the text citing different paragraphs on each. Oh, when I can’t see for looking!!! (and doing things while exhausted makes for many a mistake!) Please, dear reader, if you go there, forgive me – I’ll catch up soon-ish 🙂

I selected some paragraphs of Keller’s 1903 essay, Optimism and really quite like the condensing as an abridged version but also plan to revisit the full texts and study them in more depth, at some point. There are links to the various formats full texts online sources on the transcript for my reading – and it’s wonderful to see digitised versions of the original book pages.

Helen Keller’s intelligence and command of language is absolutely astounding. I think I should read my abridged version every day to strengthen my resolve.

I, too, can work, and because I love to labor with my head and my hands, I am an optimist in spite of all. I used to think I should be thwarted in my desire to do something useful. But I have found out that though the ways in which I can make myself useful are few, yet the work open to me is endless. .. Darwin could work only half an hour at a time; yet in many diligent half-hours he laid anew the foundations of philosophy. … it is my chief duty and joy to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. [from part ii, para.26]

Here’s another favourite excerpt from that same text:

These things which you see and hear and touch are not the reality of realities, but imperfect manifestations of the Idea, the Principle, the Spiritual; the Idea is the truth, the rest is delusion.

 

I realised when i began to research, that although Helen Keller’s name was familiar to me, I had forgotten any prior learning of who she was. I expect that when we heard small mention of her in school it would have been a very brief introduction, telling us what an incredible person and writer she was, but not actually sharing her work. It was probably one of those 300 words of contextual information and a set of comprehension questions on a workcard. It seems such a shame – and apparently that’s still a common experience, according to replies in the comments to my post at Blogger’s World.

The second piece of Helen Keller’s writing I selected to read from is her magnificent poem, ‘Songs of the Stone Wall’, published in 1910. The transcript is here (and hopefully without  error) and the audio file of my reading from this work is labelled as Part 2 on the BW-feature postThis was one of my favourite moments in the poem:

At the foot of the aged pines the maidens moccasins
Track the sod like the noiseless sandals of Spring.
Out of chinks in the wall delicate grasses wave,
As beauty grew out of the crannies of these hard souls. [from verse 12]

So, I came here not to write another few hundred words, but have enjoyed doing so, it seems.

I’d love to hear from you if you’re familiar with Helen Keller’s work and have any recommendations, or your own favourite moments in her work, or for any other feedback or discussion.

I wont be posting here often, while I work out how and why I am doing whatever next with this blog that I keep mulling over… so for now, and until next time…  I hope you’re having a good day 🙂


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“If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.”

Confucius

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“If you do not think about your future, you cannot have one.”

 John Galsworthy

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“The future is no more uncertain than the present.”

Walt Whitman

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