Landscapes: John Berger on Art - John Berger

Staff Pick

As Walter Benjamin was “more than a literary critic,” John Berger is more than an art critic. The work collected in Landscapes (Verso, $26.95) dates from 1954 to 2015 and includes essays, memoirs, and poetry. It showcases Berger’s skills as storyteller and aphorist (“a drawing is an autobiographical record of one’s discovery of an event…a ‘finished’ work is an attempt to construct an event in itself”), and as a Marxist art historian. Defining “landscapes” in the broadest sense, these pieces evoke not only actual places—Ramallah, Finistère—but map the intellectual ground of figures including Roland Barthes, Rosa Luxemburg, and Gabriel García Márquez, as well as exploring the particular terrain of the European peasantry and the Soviet states. “The Moment of Cubism” is quintessential Berger, showing how Picasso and Braque “imagined the world transformed, but not the process of transformation,” and how this marked a shift from the Renaissance, when not the way something was depicted but the subject determined the picture’s expressive power. Berger is as attentive to what lies outside a frame as to the colors and lines within it, and his sincerest wish is that all “art should be an inspiration to life—not a consolation.”