John Berger’s Ways of Seeing Episode 2

John Berger believes that the difference in nakedness and nudity lies in whether or not the subject is aware they are being seen. In a painting depicting the story of Adam and Eve, the pair eat the forbidden fruit and realize they are naked. Upon this realization, they hide from God out of shame for being bare. They go on to use leaves to cover themselves up from each other’s gaze, as well as that of the viewer. The moment Adam and Eve become aware of their nakedness, they become Berger’s definition of nude. They see each other differently, as something to be seen, and cover up as a result. I agree with Berger’s interpretation of these terms, being naked is to be free, while being nude is to be under a magnifying glass.

The Western works of art depicted in the second episode of Ways of Seeing generally show women in a submissive role to men. In the painting sent by the Grand Duke of Florence to the King of France, Venus is having an intimate moment with Cupid. Her body, however, is not facing him. She is facing forward, on full display for the King rather than Cupid himself. She is there solely for him to look at. This idea’s influence has lived hundreds of years beyond this painting. Until around the 1960’s the ideal woman in society was a housewife who was seen and not heard. In American Psycho, a movie set in the late 80’s, Patrick Bateman tells his assistant not to wear pants to work anymore. He tells her he likes heels, a subtle order for her to begin wearing those shoes as well. Bateman is meant to depict the average male working on Wall Street, signifying that the “seen not heard” mentality was still prevalent among the upper class in the 80s, and worth talking about when the movie was made in the year 2000.

The significance of the mirror in the paintings Berger talks about has been my favorite part of this special. He talks about how women look in the mirror and see a sight to be looked at rather than just themselves. Male artists paint a nude woman, looking at themselves in a mirror. This image of a woman with a mirror becomes a symbol of vanity. These men judge the women for worrying so much about how they look, while painting them for their own viewing pleasure. He relates the facial expressions of the women in the old European paintings to the ones of women in pornographic magazines. They both give the capturer a face they believe will be alluring for the man who views the final product. I particularly enjoyed the comment the women in the closing discussion made about intentionally seeing yourself in the mirror as opposed to catching a glimpse by chance. She says that when you look with intention, you go to the mirror in a pose, seeing yourself with a projected image in mind. However, when you look without intention you “see yourself as you are,” outside of the image you are trying to maintain. Whenever I see a reflection of myself in a glass storefront, I feel a small shock at my own face. I felt that this woman captured and explained that feeling very well.