Ways of Seeing

The Ways of Seeing’s emphasis on oil paintings is particularly interesting when juxtaposed to cotemporary advertisements. In chapter five, they write, “Oil paintings often depict things. Things which in reality are buyable” (83). And so, these paintings portray possession and desire. They show us how people desired objects at that time, but the circulation of such paintings also illuminates how one comes to possess a work of art. Oil paintings are not only objects that belong to art lovers, but they are objects that are owned. Moreover, they are physical presences that contribute to a spectacle of ownership that reflects taste, social status, and wealth.
The position of chapter five in the book is also telling of their views on art and objects. When looking at the fourth chapter that is made up of images, it was difficult to see the connection of these images to the text without a sense of guidance. What did these images portray? Why are they grouped together? Having such chapters that are in a way silent, unable to speak for themselves but also empowered to show for themselves, lacks the voice over narrative of the television series. This absence of the voice and sound, however, made the series of images more open to interpretation. These images seemed to bridge the chapters on women and the gaze with the economic analysis of the fifth chapter. The images included women, but rather than nudes, religious paintings of Mary are the first set of images. These off-set the reading of nudes that resist a singular narrative of how women are portrayed. The images then move to bodies, death, still lives, mythology, and portraits. In a way, these are also objects to be owned. The juxtaposition of these images in a collage provides a sense of equivalence. They can be read in ways that emphasize artistic mastery of technique or as allegories, but they all depict objects that are owned. Food or portraits, for example, show things that we can purchase. A portrait of oneself can also be seen as a desire to own our own image.
At the same time, such static juxtaposition alone cannot be the entire narrative when Ways of Seeing is a transmedial experience. Unlike the book, the television series emphasizes movement and speed, especially in episode four. It made me think of how do our current technologies of reproduction of the image affect our consumption? The pace at which we consume seems to accelerate as the image can be reproduced in infinite ways on an infinite amount of platforms that range from television ads to subway and elevator posters. We continue to depict objects and modalities of desire at an ever increasing pace, but at what cost? The image of the assembly line of workers and voice saying, “The future deferred. Meanwhile, the interminable present” appears on screen. There is the consistent manufacturing of objects, and we consume such objects in the present while awaiting an intangible future.
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