John Berger, the English Marxist critic who has written about painting and sculpture since the Fifties, has of late enlarged his purview to include photography. To a large extent, his growing interest in the medium is a consequence of his political stance toward art in general—a position spelled out in Ways of Seeing, his most influential work to date.

Ways of Seeing is devoted to establishing a connection between the European tradition of oil painting and capitalism. “Oil painting did to appearances what capital did to social relations,” Berger argues. “Oil painting celebrated a new kind of wealth—which was dynamic and which found its only sanction in the supreme buying power of money “ He contends that oil paintings between 1500 and 1900 are in large part concerned with depicting things (i.e., property), that the medium of oil is especially suited for conveying the substance of...


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