Wednesday, 11 January 2017

A man of his time

Ways of seeing (and thinking)

The news came as no surprise; at 90, John Berger was still as relevant and lucid as you'd expect but he was equally fragile. "Il est parti", confirmed from Paris his granddaughter. I'd like to think he wanted to join Leonard Cohen up there and perhaps was too tired to face a world with the likes of Trump running the show; a nightmare scenario for someone who spent his life supporting and helping the underdog, the dispossessed, the vulnerable.

Who and what was Berger? He was a man of his time: art critic, writer, thinker, storyteller, a humanist full of energy and charm. He was someone who taught us how to look at (and see) things;  not only art, which he did famously through the groundbreaking TV series Ways of Seeing but also the world.
He became notorious in 1972 when, after winning the Booker Prize, denounced the slavery connections in the Caribbean of the award founder Booker McConnell and gave half of the prize to the British Black Panthers, something that did not go well with some parts of the cultural establishment.
He then went to live in the French Alps for most of his life, where he found inspiration for one of his most successful books, Pig Earth (1979), that would become part of the trilogy Into Their Labours. 
An outspoken critic of capitalism, Berger's legacy will remain with us for generations to come and his work will be studied and enjoyed because, as artist David Shrigley has said, he was the "best ever writer on art". I for one will not challenge that.
There is where we will meet, John.