I have chosen to respond to James Bridle’s series on the BBC 4 channel concerning his observations on Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’. It is presented as a series of broadcasts on his understanding of Berger’s insight on visual art. Later I will cast some doubts on Bridle’s thinking around the internet and its influence on thinking and doing.
However, John Berger was wrong in choosing the artists in the 50’s as representing social realism. The artists themselves, in time, reacted and became either abstract or less ‘soviet’ in style. I knew most of the painters and saw their style change to become more personal, less observational on contemporary life, more an exploration of form. My feelings about Berger is that his art criticism was exciting and fresh, but his novels go further in depth of feeling in giving attention to detail and poignant expression about life.
A few days before his broadcasts Berger was standing in front of large posters on London’s underground platform and realised what his starting point would be for his TV series. He needed to speak about how advertising was corrupting people’s ideas on visual form. These posters did not really benefit one’s life, but ensnared a public into believing that they did and of course still do.
I want to bring Codswallop into this discussion because Codswallop from the depths of the Atlantic remains a constant irritant on the failings of human kind. He says, “why not rely on our feelings?”
We all realize the dangers of over production in a product driven world, we all can see the looming catastrophe of climate change and the effect on biodiversity, and we, perhaps though not all, see the dangers of the internet.
Bridle, as a digital artist and broadcaster, is saying that we need to have more control over the digital communication network, to understand it more and deal with it from a position of knowledge. He is saying that in its operations, it creates a better world in communication, information and knowledge. What nonsense is this; do we have to give ourselves over to a world of algorithms in a world where feeling is absent? As this tendency grows, I think Berger is turning to return because the world of images on the internet are in themselves losing art’s function, of interpretation, of seeing life through art. “Look at your art,” says Codswallop, “look at its form, feel what it is expressing. See the dangers of losing the ability to play, and a kind of play that opens up your amazing ability to use your imagination, and, importantly, see what lies outside the material side of life. Seeing life and art differently is being pushed aside by dazzling displays of products that you don’t need”. Berger again turns.
However, what are the displays portrayed by the ‘art market’ as it is today? Duchamp a while back was playing and amusing himself with found objects. But he was a mischief- maker. And perhaps mischief itself casts spells on ways of seeing that shake us out of a torpor, or a dullness of mind to look at art as a way of thinking, which after all is the job of art, or at least one of them. But what about the sense of feeling in these works? I leave the reader to think on.
Art is something that takes its time, a kind of time outside our own normal dimensionality of time. It is not hurried into life and surprises people by its ‘deconstruction’ of form. I use this word of Derrida’s carefully because it is often used sloppily. The word is close to the process of how art is made in its forming of form from the un-form, and thus, evolves as a new sense of reality realized through many layers of seeing. Incidentally, this is a sure way of escaping from the internet’s hold on culture and its cruel hand turning the screw on knowledge.
Like Derrida I may be surfing the language to find sense, but this is also the language of art in its process of making. Most importantly, I want to escape the confines of bird cage life. I want to escape the logical reasoning of academic constraints and abstruse intellectual arguments. I also want to free myself from the speed of the internet in collapsing and compressing time and space, where the imagination has no place. Slavery has not gone out of the window, it has flown through the back door and taken us by surprise. Slavery that is, to technological advance, and as it is suggested, to a better life. Thus, cooking the goose twice over, once through greed and once through convenience. Hah! A job done quickly is a job well done!(?). Also, mischief raises its head again, or is it that mischief can be art. Duchamp says so, call it art and it becomes art. So, mischief and deception are one and the same, perhaps?
Let’s get back to ways of seeing. Take Jeff Koons and Kaws, how do they see? Quite easy, both are entrepreneurs, both aspire to fame and money, both are egocentric individuals and revel in glamour and publicity because this enhances their art price. The auction houses and collectors also see to that. And industrialisation plays its part in enabling works to be made without the hand of the artist. And the art market thrives.
Freeze everybody, freeze, not the art fair, but the unfair inequality and muck-spreading money sucking greed that dismantles the aspirations of playing in the territory of the creative spirit. Greed and slavery to money through entrepreneurial practice is undermining democratic rights and destruction of aesthetic and subjective visions.
James Bridle has suggested that Artificial Intelligence is nearer the truth and makes our lives easier, blimey, that’s not the way of an artist or creative thinker, life is hard work and needs to be so in order to live and feel more deeply. My sense of being is about knowing the unknown and finding the unimaginable truth in things.