Saturday, September 27, 2008

Ways of seeing art on television

There's a bit of a surfeit of TV programmes about art and arts TV this week - but only if you live in the UK (I can hear the wailing now!). This is so all my readers who'd like to watch can make plans to take control of the remote control..........
Ways of Seeing
Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.

But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relationship between what we see and what we know is never settled.'
John Berger - "Ways of Seeing": Based on the BBC Television Series
Ways of Seeing was a BBC TV series in 1972 before it was a book about art criticism by John Berger - it airs again on Sunday night on BBC4 at 7.30pm.
Published in 1972, with an accompanying TV series, Ways of Seeing remains Berger's most famous and widely read work, a slap in the face of the art establishment and an almost sacred text for the two or three art generations of students who grew up under its immeasurable influence.
Guardian - A radical returns (commenting on the book)

A BAFTA award-winning series with John Berger, which rapidly became regarded as one of the most influential art programmes ever made. In the first programme, Berger examines the impact of photography on our appreciation of art from the past.
Radio Times
The weird thing is I'm writing this with "Ways of Seeing" sitting right next to my laptop - it 'arrived' on the floor next to my feet yesterday after I'd misplaced it for a while! Really odd....


Good old Monitor - those were the days! After Ways of Seeing, BBC4 is broadcasting five Monitor programmes back to back - I wonder whether they'll have digitally enhanced the old film?

Besides interviews with Hitchcock and Betjeman they include:
The Art of Arts TV

Then at 10.00pm tomorrow a new series The Art of Arts TV kicks off with a programme about arts documentaries which focuses on the impact of the camera on ways of looking at art. Click the link to see when the repeats are on. There are two more programmes on the 29th and 1st October.
The Landmark Arts Series
Landmark arts programmes have been with us since the birth of civilisation. Literally. The very first arts "blockbuster" televised was Kenneth Clark's Civilisation in 1969. Since then we've got used to the splendour of high art being brought into our living room by the likes of Robert Hughes, Sister Wendy Beckett, Tim Marlow and (most popular of all in terms of viewing figures but wholeheartedly condemned by the art critics in this documentary) Rolf Harris. The last film in this satisfying series explores the monumental cultural impact of the arts programme on TV.
Radio Times listing: Wednesday 01 October, 10:00pm - 11:00pm, BBC4 (links added are by me)
Channel 4's Art Season

Following on from last week's programme by Robert Hughes, the second programme in the three programme series is 'The Great Russian Art Invasion'. This is on Channel 4 6.30-8.00pm - in direct competition with Ways of Seeing.
As he investigates the Russian boom in art acquisition, Marcel Theroux takes us inside the fortified mansions of a few collectors, and frankly they make your average Premier League footballer's place look homely. The marbled halls are bedecked with million-dollar paintings like so many Athena posters.
Radio Times
I'm really disappointed with the Radio Times - it's opted to give major feature status for the bling culture of the Russians as opposed to the 'seminal' programme of Ways of Seeing.

Finally though a lovely quote which I came across while researching the John Berger links.
when you are drawing something which is alive, you are drawing the traces of what has happened to it until that moment at which you are looking at it. I mean, the traces of how it has physically become itself.
John Berger - in conversation with Michael Ondaatje Times Online All creation is in the art of seeing


  1. You are twisting the knife, Katherine for we poor deprived souls outside the UK who won't be seeing these programs. The only comfort, and I thank you personally for it, is that I have a much appreciated copy of WAYS OF SEEING which you lead me to and watched me buy at Waterstones :)

  2. For those outside the UK it's worth seeing (pun intended) who the production partners are on some of the new shows. Many of them are co-produced by companies like PBS, Discovery, National Geographic, etc and end up on the relevent channels over in the US (for example) many months after they've aired here. Not the best solution, but keep an eye out for them. :)

  3. Well it is about time there were more art programmes on British TV, we are sadly lacking usually.

    Now the decision - John Berger in his amazing 70s shirts or the Russian Art programme? Arrrgh!

  4. Thank you for alerting me to these programmes. I've spent a happy hour browsing through my copy of the book. A Pelican Original, priced 60p !! More when I've watched the repeats.

  5. Aaaargh - I didn't realise Robert Hughes's The Shock of the New was on tonight!!!!

    It's non stop arts telly on the arty channels this weekend

    Must be a Rothko ripple effect!

  6. I'm a bit late with this, but since I'm not in the UK, I tried to locate this on Netflix. No luck-----but it is on You Tube! Each episode is broken into 4 parts, but I believe all of it is there.

    Episode 1, part 1 is at

    Can't wait to see them all!


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