New Ways of Seeing

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.

Ken Turner reprising Diogenes

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.

‘The artist talks to his model’ – Ken Turner: pastel on paper. (private collection)

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.

Ken Turner

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Miklos Legrady
03/09/2019 2:25 pm

As a teenager, Ways of Seeing” opened my eyes to semiotic thought and the underlying social and political themes in visual art. As an adult artist and scholar, I found that Berger relies much on Walter Benjamin. Where we thought “The Work Of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” was research similar to today’s academic scholarship, it is in fact Marxist propaganda. History reminds us that Marxists saw truth and accuracy as useful when convenient; we cannot read Benjamin innocently when the work has political priorities. Walter Benjamin’s thesis insists that all we can ask of art is to… Read more »

Derek Guthrie
03/09/2019 8:29 pm
Reply to  Miklos Legrady

What an informed response by Miklos; the New Art Examiner is well blessed to have him as our Canadian Editor.

Poet Laureate
30/08/2019 7:52 am

Dear Mr Turner,
If you can find the unimaginable truth in things, what’s the truth behind a creative spirit? Don’t creative spirits (and also artists) have difficulty being boxed in or put in a birdcage, as you say?
You sound like you were educated with a Protestant ethic when you say, “life is hard work and needs to be so in order to live and feel more deeply.”

Joshua Temple
30/08/2019 2:08 am

Hi Ken,
Internet most certainly does have a hold on our culture. We are condemned and blessed by it at the same time, condemned because we have to sort out the real from the fantasy world of what Big Brother is feeding us, while blessed because if we are able, we can find the information we are desperately searching for in the back pages of our search engines. However, it does tend to make us all pseudo-intellectuals, myself included. I wonder if I can think a straight thought without it.

Al Jirikowic
18/08/2019 8:06 pm

Ken is plainly and painfully correct. We are slaves to high tech–whether we know or not and mostly likely not. Never is a slave more a slave when they know not the cage that enslaves them/us. In this never ending labyrinth of hoodwinking passing it self off as communication, our wits are off the table, our eyes confused and constrained, language is actually confined as one way traffic and our minds are unknowingly confused by speed and readiness of the screen. The computer picks the pocket of your mind digitally as never ceasing surveillance of your person, friends and family,… Read more »

Jonathan Dabbs
14/08/2019 4:16 am

Hello Mr Codswallop, It was about time you wrote another article for the New Art Examiner! I rather enjoyed this one, and as with your other writing have had to read this a few times to get the whole sense of it, even though I’m still not sure of it all. I have some problems when I read the contradiction that your sense of being is about knowing the unknown. I also had difficulty understanding the meaning of this sentence, “These posters did not really benefit one’s life, but ensnared a public into believing that they did and of course… Read more »

Eugenia Tattersall
17/08/2019 8:20 am
Reply to  Jonathan Dabbs

Hi Jonathan,
Don’t you think our sense of being is a contradiction in itself? Ken Turner is in his nineties, and he must certainly know the unknown.
I disagree though when he says there’s no place for imagination with internet, but then it depends on what you’re using internet for – to play games, to go on Facebook or instead for some of the most beautiful explorations possible. I find the endless possibilities of information (some good, some not so good) an amazing voyage for the mind – the pathways are endless.

31/08/2019 4:18 am

Hi Eugenia, Pathways are endless, but life isn’t! Just think of all the hours you spend in internet and on your phone. How many? I remember life before the internet, and it was long Saturday and Sunday breakfasts, homemade bread, paper newspapers, friends for dinner, lectures that weren’t online, public libraries, conversations with real people in person and not on Skype or Whatsapp, handwritten letters in the mail, and most of all, I had “time”. I also think that my brain was my brain and not a brain manipulated by this external microchip that isn’t implanted yet in my brain,… Read more »

derek guthrie
31/08/2019 8:34 am
Reply to  Olivia

How can we gain a sense of community? In theory that was what artists, poets, and writers did. it was called Bohemia were the oddballs went and found a cultural space. Alas no more. The soulless of the computer and consumer culture has eaten the art world. Pride and prejudice, class war, gender war, have infiltrated and taken over. Politics is a disgrace. Both the US and the UK are into self-destructing. As Olivia has noted we have lost time, for living and in my opinion, no longer know how to contemplate or focus or appreciate the creative contribution. Status… Read more »

Edyth Packworth
01/09/2019 12:36 am
Reply to  Olivia

Going one step forward but back into the art world, Lucy McRae has an exhibition from her “creative research practice” entitled “How will technology transform the body?” This “beguiling work” is on display at the National Gallery of Victoria. Call it “beguiling” and if this is what we have to look forward to from the art world, I think it’s time to start all over. Nonetheless, the exhibition is free of charge. Can you imagine paying to see this work?

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