My Debt to John Berger – Part 1

John Berger

I’d like to write a bit about John Berger (above). Most people know of John Berger as the author of  Ways of Seeing, a brilliant book that launched 10,000 dull cultural studies seminars. But  that book represents only a tiny part of his output.

I don’t have heroes but Berger’s writings on the activity and meaning of drawing have kept me drawing, have shown me how drawing, far from being an attempt to reproduce the visual, can be a means to being more exquisitely alive in the world.  One piece in particular was the spark that started EvolveRevolve.

In ‘Drawing on Paper’ in  Berger on Drawing  (Ed. Jim Savage, Occasional Press, Cork 2005) he tells of how he, who speaks no Turkish, met with the Turkish writer Latife Tekin, who speaks no English or French:

‘….in this our only life we were both story tellers without a word in common. All we had were our powers of observation, our habits of narration, our Aesopian sadness. The suspicion between us gave way to shyness.

‘I took out a notebook & did a drawing of myself as one of her readers. She drew a boat upside down to show she couldn’t draw. I turned the paper round so it was right way up. She made a drawing to show her boats always sank. I said there were birds at the bottom of the sea. She said that there is an anchor in the sky…. Then she told me a story about municipal bulldozers destroying the houses built in the night. I told her about an old woman who lived in a van. The more we drew the quicker we understood. In the end we were laughing at our own speed- even when the stories were monstrous or sad. She took a walnut and divided it in two, held it up to say, Halves of the same brain! then somebody put on some Bektasi music and the company began to dance.’


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Filed under Art, Books, Drawing

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