Biography of John Berger

Before he was a critic and novelist, John Berger began his career as a painter. Throughout the 1940s, he exhibited works in galleries across London. Along with painting, he formed associations with the Communist Party of Great Britain early in his career: although he never formally joined the party, he was closely tied to the broader communist movement, and his Marxist values would underlie his artistic work for the rest of his career. His first novel, A Painter of Our Time, was released in 1958, but it was immediately taken out of publication due to pressure from the Congress of Cultural Freedom, a CIA-funded liberal anti-communist organization.

Berger soon became fed up with life in the U.K. and moved to France in 1962, where continued writing. A decade later, he filmed Ways of Seeing for the BBC, publishing a book of the same name as a companion to the miniseries. Most of the other books he published throughout this time were fiction, though he also wrote on sociology, including A Seventh Man: Migrant Workers in Europe. His art historical studies also often included a radical slant, such as Art and Revoliton: Ernst Neizvestny, Endurance, and the Role of the Artist in the USSR. Throughout the later part of his career, Berger wrote primarily about the relationship between politics, art, photography, and memory. His later stories maintained his activist stance, including To The Wedding, which addressed the AIDS crisis. He also wrote art criticism regularly for the New Statesman and New Yorker, infusing his art-historical analysis with a healthy dose of Marxist radicalism.

Berger passed away in 2017, to the immense sadness of the leftist art criticism community. In an obituary in Artforum, he was called "the least boring writer on art there has ever been." Throughout his career as a critic and novelist, he continually advocated social equality, often identifying conditions of inequality—such as the lack of female representation in art that he discusses in Chapter 3 of Ways of Seeing—before they reached the broader public discourse. Even nearly fifty years after Ways of Seeing's publication, many of the ideas Berger expressed in the text remain controversial, impressive for their relevance to the contemporary leftist discourse.

Study Guides on Works by John Berger

In 1969, Kenneth Clark debuted a BBC miniseries narrating the history of Western art. Entitled Civilization, the series sketched out a concise, simple approach to art history, positing that every work of art can be understood by an adequate...