John Berger quotes:

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  • Traditional Chinese art looked at the Earth from a Confucian mountain top; Japanese art looked closely around screens; Italian Renaissance art surveyed conquered nature through the window or door-frame of a palace. For the Cro-Magnons, space is a metaphysical arena of continually intermittent appearances and disappearances.

  • Emigration, forced or chosen, across national frontiers or from village to metropolis, is the quintessential experience of our time.

  • As Nelson Mandela has pointed out, boycott is not a principle, it is a tactic depending upon circumstances. A tactic which allows people, as distinct from their elected but often craven governments, to apply a certain pressure on those wielding power in what they, the boycotters, consider to be an unjust or immoral way.

  • Art is the provocation for talking about enigma and the search for sense in human life. One can do that by telling a story or writing about a fresco by Giotto or studying how a snail climbs up a wall.

  • Protest and anger practically always derives from hope, and the shouting out against injustice is always in the hope of those injustices being somewhat corrected and a little more justice established.

  • Being a unique superpower undermines the military intelligence of strategy. To think strategically, one has to imagine oneself in the enemy's place. If one cannot do this, it is impossible to foresee, to take by surprise, to outflank. Misinterpreting an enemy can lead to defeat. This is how empires fall.

  • A cigarette is a breathing space. It makes a parenthesis. The time of a cigarette is a parenthesis, and if it is shared, you are both in that parenthesis. It's like a proscenium arch for a dialogue.

  • Without ethics, man has no future. This is to say, mankind without them cannot be itself. Ethics determine choices and actions and suggest difficult priorities.

  • The human imagination... has great difficulty in living strictly within the confines of a materialist practice or philosophy. It dreams, like a dog in its basket, of hares in the open.

  • The camera relieves us of the burden of memory. It surveys us like God, and it surveys for us. Yet no other god has been so cynical, for the camera records in order to forget.

  • What makes photography a strange invention is that its primary raw materials are light and time.

  • Nothing in the nature around us is evil. This needs to be repeated since one of the human ways of talking oneself into inhuman acts is to cite the supposed cruelty of nature.

  • One can say of language that it is potentially the only human home, the only dwelling place that cannot be hostile to man.

  • A drawing is essentially a private work, related only to the artist's own needs; a 'finished' statue or canvas is essentially a public, presented work - related far more directly to the demands of communication.

  • A boycott is directed against a policy and the institutions which support that policy either actively or tacitly. Its aim is not to reject, but to bring about change.

  • In Degas's compositions with several dancers, their steps, postures and gestures often resemble the almost geometric, formal letters of an alphabet, whereas their bodies and heads are recalcitrant, sinuous and individual.

  • The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich.

  • Drawing is a way of coming upon the connection between things, just like metaphor in poetry reconnects what has become separated.

  • You can plan events, but if they go according to your plan they are not events.

  • The human quality Degas most admired was endurance.

  • We live in a dominant culture of ceaseless Departure and Progress that has so far lasted two or three centuries.

  • The Cro-Magnons lived with fear and amazement in a culture of Arrival, facing many mysteries. Their culture lasted for some 20,000 years.

  • Compassion has no place in the natural order of the world which operates on the basis of necessity. Compassion opposes this order and is therefore best thought of as being in some way supernatural.

  • Words are so often used in the opposite sense, as a screen of diversion. It's the struggle towards truthfulness which is the same whether one is writing a poem, a novel or an argument.

  • Propaganda invariably serves the long-term interests of some elite.

  • Globalisation means many things. At one level, it talks of trade, which since the 16th century has exchanged goods and now, increasingly, ideas and information across the globe. But globalisation is also a view of the world - it is an opinion about man and why men are on the world.

  • The autobiographical doesn't interest me. I could think of few things less interesting than rooting about in my life.

  • I think I'm very permeable. I can very easily, without even choosing to do it, enter the life of another. Or, to put it in a more modest and accurate way, for that life to enter mine.

  • Hope is not a form of guarantee; it's a form of energy, and very frequently that energy is strongest in circumstances that are very dark.

  • Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display. The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress.

  • When we read a story, we inhabit it. The covers of the book are like a roof and four walls. What is to happen next will take place within the four walls of the story. And this is possible because the story's voice makes everything its own.

  • Modern thought has transferred the spectral character of Death to the notion of time itself. Time has become Death triumphant over all.

  • The media network has its idols, but its principal idol is its own style which generates an aura of winning and leaves the rest in darkness. It recognizes neither pity nor pitilessness.

  • Autobiography begins with a sense of being alone. It is an orphan form.

  • What is saved in the cinema when it achieves art is a spontaneous continuity with all mankind. It is not an art of the princes or the bourgeoisie. It is popular and vagrant. In the sky of the cinema people learn what they might have been and discover what belongs to them apart from their single lives.

  • I use charcoal a lot. Partly because it has such a fantastic range but also because it is very easy to erase. For me, drawing is a lot to do with taking out, with returning to the white of the paper.

  • Do you know the legend about cicadas? They say they are the souls of poets who cannot keep quiet because, when they were alive, they never wrote the poems they wanted to.

  • Every city has a sex and an age which have nothing to do with demography. Rome is feminine. So is Odessa. London is a teenager, an urchin, and, in this, hasn't changed since the time of Dickens. Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman.

  • Post-modernism has cut off the present from all futures. The daily media add to this by cutting off the past. Which means that critical opinion is often orphaned in the present.

  • It is comparatively easy to achieve a certain unity in a picture by allowing one colour to dominate, or by muting all the colours. Matisse did neither. He clashed his colours together like cymbals and the effect was like a lullaby.

  • Every city has a sex and age which have nothing to do with demography.

  • Today the discredit of words is very great. Most of the time the media transmit lies. In the face of an intolerable world, words appear to change very little. State power has become congenitally deaf, which is why but the editorialists forget it terrorists are reduced to bombs and hijacking.

  • Today the discredit of words is very great.

  • When we suffer anguish we return to early childhood because that is the period in which we first learnt to suffer the experience of total loss. It was more than that. It was the period in which we suffered more total losses than in all the rest of our life put together.

  • Nothing fortuitous happens in a child's world. There are no accidents. Everything is connected with everything else and everything can be explained by everything else. . . . For a young child everything that happens is a necessity.

  • A peasant becomes fond of his pig and is glad to salt away its pork. What is significant, and is so difficult for the urban stranger to understand, is that the two statements are connected by an and not by a but.

  • Glamour cannot exist without personal social envy being a common and widespread emotion.

  • Ever since the Greek tragedies, artists have, from time to time, asked themselves how they might influence ongoing political events.

  • I wanted to write about looking at the world, so it's more about helping people, or persuading people, to see what is around us; both the marvellous and the terrible.

  • Unlike any other visual image, a photograph is not a rendering, an imitation or an interpretation of its subject, but actually a trace of it. No painting or drawing, however naturalist, belongs to its subject in the way that a photograph does.

  • In the average European oil painting of the nude the principal protagonist is never painted. He is the spectator in front of the picture and he is presumed to be a man.

  • Oil painting did to appearances what capital did to social relations. It reduced everything to the equality of objects. Everything became exchangeable because everything became a commodity.

  • Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman.

  • A cigarette is a breathing space. It makes a parenthesis. The time of a cigarette is a parenthesis, and if it is shared, you are both in that parenthesis. Its like a proscenium arch for a dialogue.

  • The past grows gradually around one, like a placenta for dying.

  • The essence of songs is neither vocal nor cerebral but organic. We follow songs in order to be enclosed. We find ourselves inside a message. The unsung, impersonal world remains outside, on the other surface of a placenta. All songs, even when their content or rendering is strongly masculine, operate maternally.

  • That we find a crystal or a poppy beautiful means that we are less alone, that we are more deeply inserted into existence than the course of a single life would lead us to believe.

  • The collaboration which sometimes follows is seldom based on good will: usually on desire, rage, fear, pity or longing. The modern illusion concerning painting (which post-modernism has done nothing to correct) is that the artist is the creator. Rather he is a reciever. What seems like creaton is the act of giving form to what he has recieved.

  • Publicity is the life of this culture - in so far as without publicity capitalism could not survive - and at the same time publicity is its dream.

  • Fanaticism comes from any form of chosen blindness accompanying the pursuit of a single dogma.

  • The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.

  • A drawing is an autobiographical record of one's discovery of an event - either seen, remembered or imagined. A 'finished' work is an attempt to construct an event in itself.

  • Everything in life, is a question of drawing a life, John, and you have to decide for yourself where to draw it. You cant draw it for others. You can try, of course, but it doesn't work. People obeying rules laid down my somebody else is not the same thing as respecting life. And if you want to respect life, you have to draw a line.

  • The envied are like bureaucrats; the more impersonal they are, the greater the illusion (for themselves and for others) of their power

  • Publicity is the life of this culture - in so far as without publicity capitalism could not survive - and at the same time publicity is its dream

  • History always constitutes the relation between a present and its past. Consequently fear of the present leads to mystification of the past

  • To be desired is perhaps the closest anybody in this life can reach to feeling immortal.

  • The envied are like bureaucrats; the more impersonal they are, the greater the illusion (for themselves and for others) of their power.

  • The spectator-buyer is meant to envy herself as she will become if she buys the product. She is meant to imagine herself transformed by the product into an object of envy for others, an envy which will then justify her loving herself.

  • For the artist, drawing is discovery. And that is not just a slick phrase; it is quite literally true.

  • I actually think of myself as quite a shy person, although I know I give the impression of someone much more confident. I think what I do have is a capacity to listen to the other, even if the other is an opponent. That leads, in all senses of the word, to an engagement.

  • Today the discredit of words is very great. Most of the time the media transmit lies. In the face of an intolerable world, words appear to change very little. State power has become congenitally deaf, which is why /but the editorialists forget it /terrorists are reduced to bombs and hijacking.

  • Ours is the century of enforced travel of disappearances. The century of people helplessly seeing others, who were close to them, disappear over the horizon.

  • Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object - and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.

  • Never chain your dogs together with sausages. One must accustom one's self to be bored.

  • The heart of Paris is like nothing so much as the unending interior of a house. Buildings become furniture, courtyards become carpets and arrases, the streets are like galleries, the boulevards conservatories. It is a house, one or two centuries old, rich, bourgeois, distinguished. The only way of going out, or shutting the door behind you, is to leave the centre.

  • In the modern world, in which thousands of people are dying every hour as a consequence of politics, no writing anywhere can begin to be credible unless it is informed by political awareness and principles. Writers who have neither product utopian trash.

  • The zoo cannot but disappoint.

  • Boycott is not a principle. When it becomes one, it itself risks becoming exclusive and racist. No boycott, in our sense of the term, should be directed against an individual, a people, or a nation as such.

  • In drawing after drawing, pastel after pastel, painting after painting, the contours of Degas's dancing figures become, at a certain point, darkly insistent, tangled and dusky. It may be around an elbow, a heel, an armpit, a calf muscle, the nape of a neck.

  • A line, an area of tone, is not really important because it records what you have seen, but because of what it will lead you on to see. Following up its logic in order to check its accuracy, you find confirmation or denial in the object itself or in your memory of it.

  • Until 1954, I'd only ever thought of being a painter, but I earned my money when and where I could. You could say I drifted into writing.

  • Propaganda requires a permanent network of communication so that it can systematically stifle reflection with emotive or utopian slogans. Its pace is usually fast.

  • The industrial society... recognises nothing except the power to acquire... No other kind of hope or satisfaction or pleasure can any longer be envisaged within the culture of capitalism.

  • The point about hope is that it is something that occurs in very dark moments. It is like a flame in the darkness; it isn't like a confidence and a promise.

  • We never look at just one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves.

  • Those who first invented and then named the constellations were storytellers. Tracing an imaginary line between a cluster of stars gave them an image and an identity. The stars threaded on that line were like events threaded on a narrative. Imagining the constellations did not of course change the stars, nor did it change the black emptiness that surrounds them. What it changed was the way people read the night sky.

  • We only see what we look at. To look is an act of choice.

  • I can't tell you what art does and how it does it, but I know that often art has judged the judges, pleaded revenge to the innocent and shown to the future what the past suffered, so that it has never been forgotten. Art, when it functions like this, becomes a meeting-place of the invisible, the irreducible, the enduring, guts, and honor.

  • The past is the one thing we are not prisoners of. We can do with the past exactly what we wish. What we can't do is to change its consequences.

  • The strange power of art is sometimes it can show that what people have in common is more urgent than what differentiates them. It seems to me it's something that theatre can do, but it's rare; it's very rare.

  • Photographs bear witness to a human choice being exercised in a given situation. A photograph is a result of the photographer's decision that it is worth recording that this particular event or this particular object has been seen. If everything that existed were continually being photographed, every photograph would become meaningless.

  • All creation is in the art of seeing.

  • All photographs are there to remind us of what we forget. In this - as in other ways - they are the opposite of paintings. Paintings record what the painter remembers. Because each one of us forgets different things, a photo more than a painting may change its meaning according to who is looking at it.

  • At times failure is very necessary for the artist. It reminds him that failure is not the ultimate disaster. And this reminder liberates him from the mean fussing of perfectionism.

  • Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.

  • When we read a story, we inhabit it. The covers of the book are like a roof and four walls.

  • You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting "Vanity," thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for you own pleasure.

  • What distinguished man from animals was the human capacity for symbolic thought, the capacity which was inseparable from the development of language in which words were not mere signals, but signifiers of something other than themselves. Yet the first symbols were animals. What distinguished men from animals was born of their relationship with them.

  • To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognised for oneself.

  • Capitalism survives by forcing the majority, whom it exploits, to define their own interests as narrowly as possible. This was once achieved by extensive deprivation. Today in the developed countries it is being achieved by imposing a false standard of what is and what is not desirable.

  • The animal has secrets which, unlike the secrets of caves, mountains, seas are specifically addressed to man.

  • The opposite of love is not to hate but to separate. If love and hate have something in common it is because, in both cases, their energy is that of bringing and holding together

  • If the public photograph contributes to a memory, it is to the memory of an unknowable and total stranger.

  • It is not usually possible in a poem or a story to make the relationship between particular and universal fully explicit. Those who try to do so end up writing parables.

  • Every painted image of something is also about the absence of the real thing. All painting is about the presence of absence.

  • Compare the cinema with theatre. Both are dramatic arts. Theatre brings actors before a public and every night during the season they re-enact the same drama. Deep in the nature of theatre is a sense of ritual. The cinema, by contrast, transports its audience individually, singly, out of the theatre towards the unknown.

  • The impulse to paint comes neither from observation nor from the soul (which is probably blind) but from an encounter: the encounter between painter and model: even if the model is a mountain or a shelf of empty medicine bottles.

  • All weddings are similar, but every marriage is different.

  • Painting is something that you need to do, if not every day, then certainly most days. It is almost like being a pianist: if you stop, you lose something.

  • Whenever the intensity of looking reaches a certain degree, one becomes aware of an equally intense energy coming towards one through the appearance of whatever it is one is scrutinizing.

  • The camera relieves us of the burden of memory.

  • The existence of pleasure is the first mystery. The existence of pain has prompted far more philosophical speculation. Pleasure and pain need to be considered together; they are inseparable. Yet the space filled by each is perhaps different. Pleasure, defined as a sense of gratification, is essential for nature

  • What is saved in the cinema when it achieves art is a spontaneous continuity with all mankind.

  • Every authentic poem contributes to the labor of poetry... to bring together what life has separated or violence has torn apart... Poetry can repair no loss, but it defies the space which separates. And it does this by its continual labor of reassembling what has been scattered.

  • It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it

  • A man's presence suggests what he is capable of doing to you or for you. By contrast, a woman's presence . . . defines what can and cannot be done to her.

  • What do drawings mean to me? I really don't know. The activity absorbs me. I forget everything else in a way that I don't think happens with any other activity.

  • We who draw do so not only to make something observed visible to others, but also to accompany something invisible to its incalculable destination

  • To live and die amongst foreigners may seem less absurd than to live persecuted or tortured by one's fellow countrymen.... But toemigrate is always to dismantle the centre of the world, and so to move into a lost, disoriented one of fragments.

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