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John Berger

John Berger

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John Peter Berger is an English art critic
Art critic
An art critic is a person who specializes in evaluating art. Their written critiques, or reviews, are published in newspapers, magazines, books and on web sites...

, novelist, painter
Painting
Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface . The application of the medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush but other objects can be used. In art, the term painting describes both the act and the result of the action. However, painting is...

 and author. His novel G.
G. (novel)
G. is a 1972 novel by John Berger. The novel's setting is pre-First World War Europe, and its protagonist, named "G.", is a Don Juan or Casanova-like lover of women who gradually comes to political consciousness after misadventures across the continent...

won the 1972 Booker Prize, and his essay on art criticism Ways of Seeing
Ways of Seeing
Ways of Seeing is a 1972 BBC four-part television series of 30 minute films created chiefly by writer John Berger and producer Mike Dibb. Berger's scripts were adapted into a book of the same name. The series and book criticize traditional Western cultural aesthetics by raising questions about...

, written as an accompaniment to a BBC
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 series, is often used as a university text.

Education


Born in Hackney
London Borough of Hackney
The London Borough of Hackney is a London borough of North/North East London, and forms part of inner London. The local authority is Hackney London Borough Council....

, London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, Berger was educated at St Edward's School
St Edward's School (Oxford)
St. Edward's School is a co-educational independent boarding school located in Oxford, England. The school is located on the Woodstock Road in the north of the city close to the suburb of Summertown. In 2007 it was voted by the Country Life Magazine as number one in the top ten schools in the UK...

, an independent school
Independent school
An independent school is a school that is independent in its finances and governance; it is not dependent upon national or local government for financing its operations, nor reliant on taxpayer contributions, and is instead funded by a combination of tuition charges, gifts, and in some cases the...

 for boys in Oxford
Oxford
The city of Oxford is the county town of Oxfordshire, England. The city, made prominent by its medieval university, has a population of just under 165,000, with 153,900 living within the district boundary. It lies about 50 miles north-west of London. The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through...

. His father, S.J.D. Berger, O.B.E., M.C., had been an infantry officer on the western front during the First World War. Berger served in the British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 from 1944 to 1946; he then enrolled in the Chelsea School of Art and the Central School of Art in London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

.

Life and career


Berger began his career as a painter and exhibited work at a number of London galleries in the late 1940s. His art has been exhibited at the Wildenstein, Redfern and Leicester galleries in London. Berger has continued to paint throughout his career.

While teaching drawing (from 1948 to 1955), Berger became an art critic, publishing many essays and reviews in the New Statesman
New Statesman
New Statesman is a British centre-left political and cultural magazine published weekly in London. Founded in 1913, and connected with leading members of the Fabian Society, the magazine reached a circulation peak in the late 1960s....

. His Marxist humanism
Marxist humanism
Marxist humanism is a branch of Marxism that primarily focuses on Marx's earlier writings, especially the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 in which Marx espoused his theory of alienation, as opposed to his later works, which are considered to be concerned more with his structural...

 and his strongly stated opinions on modern art
Modern art
Modern art includes artistic works produced during the period extending roughly from the 1860s to the 1970s, and denotes the style and philosophy of the art produced during that era. The term is usually associated with art in which the traditions of the past have been thrown aside in a spirit of...

 made him a controversial figure early in his career. He titled an early collection of essays Permanent Red, in part as a statement of political commitment, and later wrote that before the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 achieved nuclear parity with the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 he had felt constrained not to criticize the former's policies; afterwards his attitude toward the Soviet state became considerably more critical.

After a childless first marriage, Berger has three children: Jacob, a film director; Katya, a writer and film critic; and Yves, an artist.

Literary career


In 1958 Berger published his first novel, A Painter of Our Time, which tells the story of the disappearance of Janos Lavin, a fictional exiled Hungarian
Hungary
Hungary , officially the Republic of Hungary , is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is situated in the Carpathian Basin and is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Serbia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. The...

 painter, and his diary's discovery by an art critic friend called John. The book's political currency and detailed description of an artist's working process led to some readers mistaking it for a true story. After being available for a month, the work was withdrawn by the publisher, under pressure from the Congress for Cultural Freedom. The novels immediately succeeding A Painter of Our Time were The Foot of Clive and Corker's Freedom; both presented an urban English life of alienation and melancholy. In 1962 Berger's distaste for life in Britain drove him into a voluntary exile in France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

.

In 1972 the BBC
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 broadcast his television series Ways of Seeing and published its companion text, an introduction to the study of images. The work was in part derived from Walter Benjamin
Walter Benjamin
Walter Bendix Schönflies Benjamin was a German-Jewish intellectual, who functioned variously as a literary critic, philosopher, sociologist, translator, radio broadcaster and essayist...

's essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
"The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" is a 1936 essay by German cultural critic Walter Benjamin, which has been influential across the humanities, and especially in the fields of cultural studies, media theory, architectural theory and art history...

.

His novel G., a romantic picaresque set in Europe in 1898, won both the James Tait Black Memorial Prize
James Tait Black Memorial Prize
Founded in 1919, the James Tait Black Memorial Prizes are among the oldest and most prestigious book prizes awarded for literature written in the English language and are Britain's oldest literary awards...

 and the Booker Prize in 1972. When accepting the Booker Berger made a point of donating half his cash prize to the Black Panther Party
Black Panther Party
The Black Panther Party wasan African-American revolutionary leftist organization. It was active in the United States from 1966 until 1982....

 in Britain, and retaining half to support his work on the study of migrant workers that became A Seventh Man
A Seventh Man
A Seventh Man is a book, in the form of photography and text by John Berger and Jean Mohr, on migrant workers in Europe. It was first published in 1975....

, insisting on both as necessary parts of his political struggle.

Many of his texts, from sociological studies to fiction and poetry, deal with experience. Berger's sociological writings include A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor (1967) and A Seventh Man: Migrant Workers in Europe (1975). His research for A Seventh Man led to an interest in the world which migrant workers had left behind: isolated rural communities. It was his work on this theme that led him to settle in Quincy
Chilly, Haute-Savoie
Chilly is a commune in the Haute-Savoie department in the Rhône-Alpes region in south-eastern France.The commune includes the hamlets of Botilly, Coucy, Curnillex, Darogne, Ferraz, Grange bouillet, Lacry, Les vernays, Mannecy, Mougny, Novéry, planaise, Quincy et Vers grange.-References:*...

, a small village in the Haute-Savoie
Haute-Savoie
Haute-Savoie is a French department in the Rhône-Alpes region of eastern France. It borders both Switzerland and Italy. The capital is Annecy. To the north is Lake Geneva and Switzerland; to the south and southeast are the Mont Blanc and Aravis mountain ranges and the French entrance to the Mont...

, where he has lived and farmed since the mid-1970s. Berger and photographer Jean Mohr
Jean Mohr
Jean Mohr is a Swiss documentary photographer who is active since 1949, primarily with some of the major humanitarian organizations of the world, including the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross , United Nations Relief and Works Agency for...

, his frequent collaborator, seek to document and to understand intimately the lived experiences of their peasant subjects. Their subsequent book Another Way of Telling discusses and illustrates their documentary technique and treats the theory of photography both through Berger's essays and Mohr's photographs. His studies of single artists include most prominently The Success and Failure of Picasso (1965), a survey of the modernist's career; and Art and Revolution: Ernst Neizvestny
Ernst Neizvestny
Ernst Iosifovich Neizvestny is a Russian sculptor. He currently lives and works in New York City. His last name in Russian literally means "unknown"....

, Endurance, and the Role of the Artist
, on the Soviet dissident sculptor's aesthetic and political contributions.

In the 1970s Berger collaborated with the Swiss
Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

 director Alain Tanner on several films; he wrote or co-wrote La Salamandre (1971), The Middle of the World (1974) and Jonah who will be 25 in the year 2000
Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000
Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 is a 1976 Swiss film directed by Alain Tanner and written by Tanner and John Berger. The location of the shooting was Geneva....

(1976). His major fictional work of the 1980s, the trilogy Into Their Labours (made up of the novels Pig Earth
Pig Earth
Pig Earth is the first novel by John Berger in the Into Their Labours trilogy. Once in Europa, and Lilac and Flag followed in the trilogy....

, Once in Europa, and Lilac and Flag), treats the European peasant experience from its farming roots into contemporary economic and political displacement and urban poverty.

In recent essays Berger has written about photography, art, politics, and memory; he published in The Shape of a Pocket a correspondence with Subcomandante Marcos
Subcomandante Marcos
Subcomandante Marcos is the spokesperson for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation , a Mexican rebel movement. In January 1994, he led an army of Mayan farmers into the eastern parts of the Mexican state of Chiapas protesting against the Mexican government's treatment of indigenous...

, and written short stories appearing in the Threepenny Review and The New Yorker
The New Yorker
The New Yorker is an American magazine of reportage, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons and poetry published by Condé Nast...

. His sole volume of poetry is Pages of the Wound, though other volumes such as the theoretical essay And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos contain poetry as well as prose. His recent novels include To the Wedding, a love story dealing with the AIDS
AIDS
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome is a disease of the human immune system caused by the human immunodeficiency virus...

 crisis stemming from his own familial experience, and King: A Street Story
King: A Street Story
King: A Street Story is a novel by English writer John Berger.The book focuses on homelessness and shantytown life, and is seemingly told from the perspective of a street dog. Berger initially insisted that his name be kept off the cover and title page of King, wanting the novel to be received on...

, a novel on homeless and shantytown life told from the perspective of a street dog. Berger initially insisted that his name be kept off the cover and title page of King, wanting the novel to be received on its own merits.

Berger's 1980 volume About Looking includes an influential chapter, "Why Look at Animals?" It is cited by numerous scholars in the interdisciplinary field of Animal Studies, a group that seeks broadly to consider human-animal relations and the cultural construction of terms like 'human,' 'animal' and so on. Collectively they took Berger's question to mean that scholars are surrounded by animals but often do not actually see them, and that there are good theoretical and ethical reasons to study animals in the humanities. The chapter was later reproduced in a Penguin Great Ideas
Penguin Great Ideas
Penguin Great Ideas is a series of largely non-fiction books published by Penguin Books. Titles contained within this series are considered to be world-changing, influential and inspirational. Topics covered include philosophy, politics, science and war...

 selection of essays of the same name.

Berger's most recent novel, From A to X, was longlisted for the 2008 Booker Prize; Berger and Salman Rushdie were the only former winners to be nominated in that year. His latest book, Bento's Sketchbook (2011), has been described as "a characteristically sui generis work, combining an engagement with the thought of the 17th-century lens grinder, draughtsman and philosopher Baruch Spinoza
Baruch Spinoza
Baruch de Spinoza and later Benedict de Spinoza was a Dutch Jewish philosopher. Revealing considerable scientific aptitude, the breadth and importance of Spinoza's work was not fully realized until years after his death...

 with a study of drawing and a series of semi-autobiographical sketches".

Awards

  • 1972
    1972 in literature
    The year 1972 in literature involved some significant events and new books.-Fiction:*Richard Adams - Watership Down*Jorge Amado - Teresa Batista Cansada da Guerra *Martin Amis - The Rachel Papers...

    : Booker Prize
  • 1991
    1991 in literature
    The year 1991 in literature involved some significant events and new books.-Events:*Douglas Coupland publishes the novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, popularizing the term Generation X as the name of the generation....

    : Petrarca-Preis
    Petrarca-Preis
    Petrarca-Preis is a European literary award named after the Italian Renaissance poet Francesco Petrarca or Petrarch. It was founded in 1975 by German art historian and publisher Hubert Burda, and is primarily designed for contemporary European poets, but also epicists appear in the list of...


Further reading

  • Dyer, Geoff Ways of Telling: The Work of John Berger, ISBN 0-7453-0097-9.
  • Dyer, Geoff (Ed.) John Berger, Selected Essays, Bloomsbury. ISBN 0-375-71318-2.
  • Fuller, Peter (1980)Seeing Berger. A Revaluation of ways of Seeing, Writers and Readers. ISBN 0-906495-48-2.
  • Hochschild, Adam Finding the Trapdoor: Essays, Portraits, Travels (Syracuse University Press, 1997), "Broad Jumper in the Alps," pp. 50–64.
  • Krautz, Jochen Vom Sinn des Sichtbaren. John Bergers Ästhetik und Ethik als Impuls für die Kunstpädagogik am Beispiel der Fotografie, Hamburg 2004 (Dr. Kovac) ISBN 3-8300-1287-X. http://www.verlagdrkovac.de/3-8300-1287-X.htm

External links