Chapter 3 Summary, Ways of Seeing

In Chapter 3 of his book, “Ways of Seeing”, John Berger argues that in western nude art and present day media, that women are largely shown and treated as objects upon whom power is asserted by men either as figures in the canvas or as spectators. Berger’s purpose is to make readers aware of how the perception of women in the art so that they will recognize the evolution of western cultured art. Berger begins by claiming that in nude art the “presence” of a man is that of an actor who asserts his power over women, who are presented as objects.

By presence, Berger means how men are authorities over women in these paintings. For example, in the painting, Reclining Bacchante (page 45), the women in the painting is wanting to appear pleasing to the artist and the viewer by laying in a way that her breasts and vagina are clearly visible. Also in the upper right window, a male is awkwardly looking in through the window at the women’s private parts. These actions of the man represents how men exerted power of women and make them feel or looked upon as objects. Next Berger refers to Adam and Eve, the first subjects of western nudes, to assert how the idea of women as advertisement to men became a part of the European tradition while nudity went from showing shame to being a display. } You can see the shameful look by viewing the photo “Adam and Eve” by Mabuse. Adam and Eve are clothed over there lower private areas. You can see the shame by the way they are not looking and shielding their eyes. Through many generations and decades later, women have gone from being shameful of their bodies to displaying confidence in their bodies.

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A example of displaying confidence in a man or women’s body is evident in the Underwear Ad (page 49) where a beautiful blonde women is nude. She is behind a bush to cover up her breasts and vaginal areas, in the plains of a savanna, and a man, with a perfect model body, wearing only the underwear he is advertising. The notion of men being “in charge” is evident in this image by the man standing in the front and middle of the picture. In this contrast, Berger asserts that European art is evolving from the shameful, naked painting into the displayed, nude art. Berger defines nakedness “as being to oneself”. } {Nudity is “to be seen naked by others, not recognizing oneself’’}. An example of one of many nude paintings is a the dark-haired women posing in the bathtub holding her hair. In the photo the women is wanting to be intoxicating and looking as if she wants to be seen as an object of sex and also put on display her body off to the world. So, she is giving herself up as a object willingly. In the painting, “Nell Gwynne”, by Lely, the women is showing submissiveness to the painter/owner. She is also wanting to display herself for the enjoyment of men.

Even though some artists, as Berger claims, tried to resist this tradition, they couldn’t overcome the cultural tradition of female objectification that has continued to the present. These artists failed to create a different view in culture because of the media and how the perception wouldn’t change in the eyes of men. One famous artist who tried to resist this awful trend was an artist name Rubens. In his portrait of his second wife, the painting named Helene Fourment in a Fur Coat, he tried to portray the same message with a different image.

The image is of a women with no other clothing other than a fur coat looking shameful. The middle-aged looking women in the painting was wearing a big brown fur coat. The difference between a regular “nude” painting and this one is the coat was covering her breasts and vaginal areas, and therefore not being was appealing to the mans’s eye because she looks shameful and doesn’t want to be displayed as an object. As a result, it wasn’t as popular as real nude photos/pictures with the male population.