“Where am I? Who am I? 
How did I come to be here? 
What is this thing called the world? 
How did I come into the world? 
Why was I not consulted? 
And If I am compelled to take part in it, where is the director? 
I want to see him.”

Søren Kierkegaard

Drawing for dear life

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

-John Berger

If I have stopped drawing, have I stopped journeying? Have I given up on “the incalculable destination”? What if my sole purpose here was always to see, and that seeing is made bearable only by drawing? Is the capacity to draw eroded by anxiety? The anxiety of utilitarian demands, or self-doubt, and the tyranny of expectation from outside, and the punishing superego within? What a babble of demons has assembled with the sole purpose of tearing up my paper and breaking my pencils!

“For the artist drawing is discovery. And that is not just a slick phrase, it is quite literally true. It is the actual act of drawing that forces the artist to look at the object in front of him, to dissect it in his mind’s eye and put it together again; or, if he is drawing from memory, that forces him to dredge his own mind, to discover the content of his own store of past observations. It is a platitude in the teaching of drawing that the heart of the matter lies in the specific process of looking. 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. Each confirmation or denial brings you closer to the object, until finally you are, as it were, inside it: the contours you have drawn no longer marking the edge of what you have seen, but the edge of what you have become. Perhaps that sounds needlessly metaphysical. Another way of putting it would be to say that each mark you make on the paper is a stepping-stone from which you proceed to the next, until you have crossed your subject as though it were a river, have put it behind you.

— from “Drawing,” Selected Essays of John Berger, edited by Geoff Dyer

“What sort of pleasure did I take in drawing? Here your fifty-year-old memoirist must put a little distance between himself and the child he once was:

  1. I took pleasure in drawing because it allowed me to create instant miracles that everyone around me appreciated. Even before I was done, I was looking forward to the praise and love my drawing could elicit. As this expectation deepened, it became part of the act of creation and part of its joy.
  2. After a time, my hand had become as skilled as my eyes. So if I was drawing a very fine tree, it felt as if my hand were moving without my directing it. As I watched the pencil race across the page, I would look on in amazement, as if the drawing were the proof of another presence, as if someone else had taken up residence in my body. As I marveled at his work, aspiring to become his equal, another part of my brain was busy inspecting the curves of the branches, the placement of the mountains, the composition as a whole, reflecting that I had created this scene on a blank piece of paper. My mind was at the tip of my pen, acting before I could think; at the same time it could survey what I had already done. This second line of perception, this ability to analyze my progress, was the pleasure this small artist felt when he looked at the discovery of his courage and his freedom. To step outside myself, to know the second person who had taken up residence inside me, was to retrace the dividing line that appeared as my pen slipped across the paper, like a boy sledding in the snow.
  3. This division between my mind and my hand, the sense that my hand was acting of its own accord, had something in common with the sensation of escaping into my dreamworld when my head stood still. But—unlike the chimeras of my strange dreamworld—I made no effort to hide my drawings. Instead, I showed them to everyone, anticipating praise and taking pleasure in it. To draw was to find a second world whose existence was not cause for embarrassment.
  4. The things I drew, no matter how imaginary the house, the tree, the cloud, had a basis in material reality. If I drew a house, I felt as if it were my house. I felt I owned everything I drew. To explore this world, to live inside the trees and scenes I drew, to depict a world so real I could show other people, was an escape from boredom of the present moment.
  5. I loved the smell and the look of paper, pencils, sketchbooks, and other art materials. I loved to caress the blank drawing paper. I liked keeping drawings, I liked their thingness, their material presence.
  6. By discovering all these little pleasures, I dared, with the help of all the praise I garnered, to believe myself different, even special. I didn’t like bragging, but I did want it known. The world I created through drawing, like the second world I hid in my head, enriched my life; even better, it gave me a legitimate escape from the dusty, shadowy world of everyday life. Not only did my family accept this new habit of mine, they accepted my right to it.”

– from “The Pleasures of Painting,” in Istanbul: Memories and the City (translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely)


See: https://www.google.co.za/amp/s/www.newstatesman.com/culture/art-and-design/2013/05/john-berger-drawing-discovery%3famp




The stare of disdain


“Fashion photography – think Horst P.Horst in the early to mid-20th century – has also long used the haughty look to suggest the status that the right clothes could bring to the wearer in a more socially mobile society. Essentially, this look says: “I am better than you”, because it refuses to offer the open, smiling face of welcome that we conventionally use to engage someone we wish to interact with. It also conveys the self-control, stiff upper lip and nonchalance of the European upper classes – “civilised” qualities which the “jolly old working classes” in those days supposedly found hard to convey.’

John Berger:

“Every publicity image confirms and enhances every other … all such images intend to excite envy, of oneself for a possible future self, and of others…”

“All publicity works upon anxiety”


“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.”

“The happiness of being envied is glamour. Being envied is a solitary form of reassurance. It depends precisely upon not sharing your experience with those who envy you. You are observed with interest but you do not observe with interest – if you do, you will become less enviable. In this respect the envied are like bureaucrats; the more impersonal they are, the greater the illusion (for themselves and for others) of their power. The power of the glamorous resides in their supposed happiness: the power of the bureaucrat in his supposed authority.”

See also:

John Berger: “Ways of Seeing”





“… to emigrate is always to dismantle the centre of the world, and so to move into a lost, disoriented one of fragments.”

– John Berger


A review of the book Modernity as Exile: The Stranger in John Berger’s writing by Nikos Papastergiadis:

Modernity as exile tackles the themes of migration, displacement, and multiculturalism in the modern world.” “Throughout John Berger’s writings, whether an art, literature or sociology, the figure of the stranger signals both the pain of uprooting and the insight gained from ‘another way of seeing’.” “Nikos Papastergiadis uses this figure to argue that ‘exile’ is not merely a political or social fact, but is an inner condition, central to the postmodern self. He analyses the cultural dynamics that connect migration and exile, not simply as the negative consequence of contemporary culture, but as its fundamental driving force. Peoples are displaced not only by wars and famine but by economics, tourism, global telecommunications. How this explodes our notions of home, of community and our sense of belonging is the central question addressed by this provocative and powerful book.”