John Peter Berger died on 2 January 2017: an art critic, painter, poet and novelist.
The art critic and novelist John Berger has died at the age of ninety. While he was perhaps best known for the television series and complementing book Ways of Seeing (1972), Berger ranged widely in his writings, defiantly and diplomatically across numerous subjects in the arts. His 1972 novel, G., was awarded the Booker Prize that year.
Born in London, Berger was educated at St. Edward’s School in Oxford. He served in the British Army from 1944 to 1946 and then enrolled in the Chelsea School of Art and the Central School of Art in London. In the late 1940s while teaching drawing, Berger also became an art critic, publishing many essays and reviews in the New Statesman. In 1972, the BBC broadcast his television series Ways of Seeing (directed by Mike Dibb) and published its companion text, an introduction to the study of images. The work was in part derived from Walter Benjamin’s essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.
In the 1970s, Berger collaborated with the Swiss 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 (1976). In more recent essays, Berger has written about photography, art, politics, and memory. He has also written short stories appearing in the Threepenny Review and the New Yorker. In the November 1995 issue of Artforum, Berger reviewed “Constantin Brancusi 1876–1957” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger (2016), a recent documentary by Colin MacCabe, Bartek Dziadosz, Christopher Roth, and Tilda Swinton, captured Berger at his home in Quincy, a village in the Alpine Haute-Savoie. Reviewing the film for artforum.com, Lauren O’Neill-Butler wrote that it conveys “things you never knew about the depths of his intelligence.”
Berger travelled as far as the hut in Ealing where his programmes were filmed, and no farther. What he said in his characteristic tone of sweet reasonableness was:
“In his book on the nude, Kenneth Clark says that being naked is simply being without clothes. The nude, according to him, is a form of art. I would put it differently: to be naked is to be oneself; to be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognised for oneself. A nude has to be seen as an object in order to be a nude.”