Friday, January 06, 2017

John Berger - "Tenderness is a Refusal to Judge"

John Berger died January 2, 2016 at age 90.

I didn't know him or even of him until this afternoon when I heard this interview on PRI with Teju Cole, who did know him.  This is a man I would have liked to have known. And I'm hoping to start an acquaintanceship through his books, and through the videos that have been left behind. The PRI interview begins like this:
"You may never have heard of John Berger.
But the English writer and artist, who died this week at 90, changed how countless art students thought about art and maybe even the world.

His 1972 television series and book ''Ways of Seeing" was designed to upend traditional, and what he termed elitist, ways of evaluating art work.
But Berger wasn’t just an art critic. He was also a novelist.
His book, “G,”, a non-linear account of a man travelling around Europe before World War One, won the Booker Prize."
[I tried to embed the audio here, but I couldn't make it work.]

It's a beautiful interview worth listening to.  It got me to look the man up and try to find out more about him.  He took on the conventional reverence for art as culture.  He also moved to rural France where he lived for 40 years or so.  Most important to me is that he saw the world and how we see the world differently from the way most people do.  Here's the first episode of that 1972 television show mentioned above.

Below is from a much later interview (I'm not sure exactly when - the posting date on Youtube isn't necessarily the date of the interview). The whole interview is available too. In it he talks about tenderness, defining it in different ways - "a refusal to judge"

In the PRI interview about Cole relates Berger's characterization of the dead as really being merely in hiding who are around us.
“Part of the storytelling is about memory,” Cole explains, “but part of it is about how the dead have not gone away. … [They] are always with us, actually supporting us.”


  1. I knew him only as an art critic. His book made a big deal out of art as conspicuous consumption -- think of those old still lifes, with lots of lemons and fish and silver goblets and good wine, or those interiors full of velvet curtains, antique maps, comfortable chairs and compliant women. It gave me a lot to think about!


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