Updated: May 26, 2022
#1: John Berger's Ways of Seeing (Book of the month)
Written by Ayesha
A book adaptation of a television show, Ways of Seeing can be read as many things. It’s studied in universities and even considered as an essay on art criticism.
What does reading Ways of Seeing mean for the common reader?
Ways of Seeing is a philosophically artistic book. It combines art with philosophy, history, and culture. It examines what makes paintings seen - how we see them and how by looking at a painting, we see ourselves.
Because when we really reflect on the way we look at works of art - be it anything visual - we’re looking at many things at once. These dimensions of seeing, or ways of seeing, are how we even watch ourselves.
It instills in us this whole new thought process of perceiving the world. Our internal world is then transparently characterized by the external. A painting is vain only so long as it provokes a personal feeling deep within us. And that’s why paintings, both historically and culturally, have been placed on a pedestal for self-examination and self-expression.
It’s not art because it uses color, patterns, hues, and forms. It’s artistic because it mimics human identity, it implants humanity on a blank canvas.
Ways of Seeing deconstructs paintings, not in an analytical or technical manner. The book contains shorts descriptions of many significant and influential paintings. Oil paintings and advertisements mostly.
So it is very specific, and remarkably enough, it’s so poetically written that it’s a pity that it’s not a large coffee table book. If there’s one thing I didn’t like about the book it is that it should have been made into a large coffee table book. With both black-and-white and colored images. You can easily meditate on each painting and read its descriptions time and again.
Perhaps there are other books better suited to describing paintings and their cultural and historical background. But Ways of Seeing is a unique read in that it’s more introspective.
It poses questions that are fresh reminders of why perceiving art is a vast and unexplored territory.
Why we need to think about how we view things as opposed to just being told or instructed on how to view them.
The essential concept of Ways of Seeing is to scrutinize perspective and how it molds perception. If you go beyond just viewing paintings, this idea extends to viewing the world and everything that has now become a part of it.
Ways of Seeing brings you closer to art and the life of art. It re-wires the way you look at public spaces.
Because when you extend the brushstrokes of the extraordinary to the familiar and ordinary things, our perspective intrinsically changes. It elevates our thinking to this whole new dimension.
Objects appear transformed. Certain moods are better understood and add a certain depth that was absent before. And perhaps even people - those who you see every day - seem more unique and picturesque.
Painters inhabit such a unique position in the world. It’s such a visual and poetic dimension. It expresses itself without words. And perhaps in ways that words do not.
Frida Kahlo wrote: “I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration.”
Perhaps that is why we often make the mistake of perceiving people as objects.
Appearances can be deceiving but let’s consider for a moment that they aren’t. After reading this book, I often wondered about the appearances of objects and people side-by-side.
And about how appearances can be less deceptive, less superficial after we’ve become more aware of them.
There’s a lot of learning and unlearning to do here.
And books like Ways of Seeing help you understand that bridge that connects both worlds. The world of objects and how we perceive them.
It’s a delicate faculty of thought, of imagination, of being. So delicate that it brings to life a leaf of grass, a drop of rain, or the movement of air.
Ways of Seeing talks about perspective, the dichotomy between women and men in paintings, the traditions and conventions surrounding art, and the differences between a mirror and a painting as a mode of expression in society. And how, depending upon how you look into either one of those surfaces, it defines who you are. Both the mirror and the painting are synonymous surfaces put on display for the world to scrutinize and read into.
On a similar note, read Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others to deconstruct the role of photography and painting side-by-side. A lyrical odyssey about how photographs affect our lives. And how they differ from narratives in that narratives make us understand the suffering of the world. Photographs do something else entirely: they haunt us.
#2: Why The Things You Think You Deserve, You Lose
Written by Ayesha
Thoughts, both consciously and unconsciously, hold the reins when it comes to how we feel on a daily basis. Including how we communicate with others - be it family members, loved ones, friends, colleagues, and strangers. A simple gesture of smiling at somebody who you don’t know but who you happen to cross paths with says a lot about what you’re thinking.
I got the idea of this article as a result of being told by others, way too many times, that I don’t react to normal situations “normally.” I won’t get into the details of what “normal” means in this context. But I will say that much of how I act stems from the fact that I introspect everything.
I practice what I say in my head before I saying or do anything. So the way I talk, the way I behave, including even when I’m not doing or saying anything, I sort of internalize everything, every time.
And much like anything in life, this, too, has its upsides and downsides.
This month’s aphorism is the psychology of entitlement.
Whether when we think we deserve something - that may be something abstract or even tangible - is it a product of our fears and insecurities or hard work and patience and commitment?
There is plenty of medical research and emphasis placed on this thought process. One notable study suggests that a person’s growing sense of entitlement can lead to better self-esteem, well-being, and the promise of a higher social and financial status.
Before I tell you why getting rid of my sense of entitlement helped me accept my reality. I’ll very quickly highlight what this sense of entitlement looks like. How it manifests in our lives. Oftentimes it is so ingrained in us that noticing it, in itself, takes effort.
A more realistic term for our sense of entitlement is expectations.
Expectations are pegged as often unrealistic, hedonistic. That’s not to say that expectations are bad. They really aren’t. What’s misunderstood, I believe, is our definition of expectations. And how it controls every aspect of our lives and we’re not even aware that it does.
So awakening self-awareness by addressing our ‘expectations list’ is the first step to dealing with our psychological sense of entitlement.
If a mirror has stains all over it, you won’t be able to see your reflection no matter how close you stand up to it.
Much in the same manner, most of what’s on that list of expectations can be erased. These expectations make the reflection of ourselves indistinct, vague, and knotty.
The truth is that it is only in imagination that our expectations feel rewarding.
It’s this idea of perpetuity that kills us the most. A limited feeling of happiness, so short-lived, is prescribed to such a limitless scope of life.
This was an obstacle for me.
I was conditionally rewired to expect happiness, to expect love, to expect acceptance; it got to such a point that, somewhere along the way, I took life very personally.
That everything that happened to me, around me, was tied together to my self-esteem.
And that’s exactly when life took it all away from me. When that happened, when my mind became a void, all that remained was my inflated sense of entitlement, these grand ideas that I harbored toward life.
I became what I should become and not who I am.
Take a moment - and ask yourself - who are you and draw a line from that to who you should become or even want to become. What you will see are two different people. Maybe more than two people. These expectations are alien. They do not serve the reality of what is.
This entitlement will excuse everything that isn’t you. And everything you do as a result of it. And ultimately they will manifest as delusions.
And that is why all the things you thought you deserved as a result of that entitlement, that delusion - you will eventually lose.
#3: Film Recommendation
The Wild Pear Tree: Resenting the grip of inevitability
A movie that’s been described as defiantly cerebral, The Wild Pear Tree requires a certain level of patience, understanding, and profundity on the part of the viewer. It’s as if you’re watching your own self take on many forms, just like Sinan (the protagonist) does in his own confused, aimless yet stubbornly unyielding manner.
The movie is merely a tale of how disassociated we all are with what’s gone, what’s to come, and what never will be. “We” being the young and old, the creative and conventional, the frustrated and stoic, and on and on. It’s about how we’re all just hanging by a thread between comprehension and submission, no matter what choices we make or what we think about a particular situation.
Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest film contains delicate arguments, narratives, and discourses that are often thought of but rarely spoken.