Critical Thinking

We began this week’s lecture, by reading the beginning of the book Ways of Seeing by John Berger. I have read the book earlier in the week but found it far more helpful to read it as a group. Our lecturer Luisa pushed us to find the meaning in each sentence. This was not an easy task as there was a lot of information squashed into the first few pages. Luisa drew our attention to the fact that the text of the first chapter begins on the front cover. I have never seen this in a book design.

back and front cover of Ways of Seeing

I made notes throughout the process of analysing the book:

I went away and watched the rest of the series on (parts 1,2 &3)

Each episode expresses a different point.

Episode 1
  • In the series- questioning the tradition of European painting (1400-1900) not focusing on the paintings themselves but the way we see them.
  • A large part of seeing depends upon habit and convention.
  • All the paintings of the tradition used the convention of perspective, which is unique to European art. Perspective centres everything on the eye of the beholder. Appearances travel into the eye. Perspective makes the eye the centre of the visible world, but the human eye can only be in one place at a time, it takes its visible world with it as it walks.
  • The invention of the camera has changed not only what we see, but how we see it. The painting on the wall, like the human eye, can only be in one place at one time. The camera reproduces it, making it available in any size and anywhere, for any purpose.
  • Venus and mars used to be a unique image, which it was only possible to see in the room where it was actually hanging. Now its image, or a detail of it can be seen in a million different places at the same time. As you look at the images now, your wallpaper is around them, your window is opposite them, your carpet is below them. At this same moment, they are on many screens, surrounded by different colours, different objects and different sounds. You are seeing them in the context of your own life. They are surrounded not by gilt frames, but by the familiarity of the room you are in and the people around you.
  • The paintings are part of the history of the building it is in. for example, the church or chapel.
  • Now the images come to you, you do not go to them. It is the image of the painting which travels now.
  • The faces of paintings become messages. Pieces of information to be used, even used to persuade us to help purchase more originals, which these very reproductions have in many ways replaced.
  • A reproduction does not have the same feeling of authenticity as the original artwork
  • The pages of a book and a screen is never still. The lines are slightly moving. With a genuine original painting, there is a moment of stillness you have with the painting in a museum that cannot be replicated.
  • Words you notice consciously. Music is subtler. It can work almost without you noticing it. However, music changes the meaning of a painting when it is played over the top. Words around it and music played over it changes the meaning of a painting.
  • When paintings are reproduced, they have to hold their own against all the other information jostling around them to appear on the same page or the same screen.
  • The meaning of an image can be changed according to what you see beside it or what comes after it.
  • When you turn from one channel to another on television, this affects the next image you see on your screen. It alters the impact of an image in different ways.
  • It means: reproductions of works of art can be used by anybody for their own purposes.
  • Images can be used like words, we can talk with them. Reproduction should make it easier to connect our experience of art directly with other experiences.
  • Reproductions make the paintings easily accessible, however the context they appear in can oppose this. The example Berger gives is the old paintings reproduced in an art book. The language used in the book, which surrounds the image, can inhibit the accessibility. Because of the use of difficult language. (mystification)
  • Children connect images directly with their own experience.
  • On television programmes, we receive images and meanings which have been arranged. Be skeptical of what a programme arranges for us to see.
Episode 2
  • ‘Men dream of women, women dream of themselves being dreamt of.’ There is a focus on what women look like. They are looked at by men. How they look or how they should look. Behind every glance is a judgement. A woman is always accompanied by an image of herself
  • The video switches between footage of working women in a lab, models, classical paintings of women and old and young women, plain and glamourous women.
  • ‘From earliest childhood she is taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to others and particularly how she appears to men is of crucial importance for it is normally thought of as the success of her life.’
  • In the average European oil painting, there were portraits of women as well as men but in one category, they were an ever occurring subject. That category was the nude. In the nudes of European painting, we can discover some of the criteria and conventions of which women were judged. We can see how women were seen.
  • What is a nude?
  • Different views on what a nude is: 1) to be without clothes- a form of art 2)to be naked is to be one’s self. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for one’s self.  A nude has to be seen as an object in order to be a nude.
  • In the bible- Adam and Eve. The woman is blamed and punished by being made subservient to the man. In relation to the woman, the man becomes the agent of God. Moment of shame. It is the spectator’s looking which shames them (covering up with a leaf or hand)
  • The nude implies an awareness of being seen by the spectator.
  • Men looking at naked women and judging them is a theme in European art. They even call the women Vanity, thus repeating the story of Adam and Eve where the woman is blamed/shamed.
  • ‘We are not discounting the role seeing plays in sexuality but there is a different between being seen as one’s self naked or seeing another in that way, and a body being put on display. To be naked is to be without disguise. To be on display is to have the surface of one’s own skin, the hairs of ones own body, turned into a disguise, a disguise which cannot be discarded.’
  • It is possible to tell when the artist has actually seen the woman he has painted. There are not many examples if this in European art.
  • Most of the nudes in oil paintings have been lined up and painted for the pleasure of the male spectator owner who will assess and judge them as sights. Their nudity is another form of dress . they are condemned to never being naked.
  • ‘The painting is made to appeal to the sexuality of the male spectator, it has nothing to do with her sexuality. The convention of not painting the hair on a woman’s body helps towards the same end. Hair is associated with sexual power and passion. The women’s sexual passion needs to be minimized so that the spectator may feel he has the monopoly of such passion. The expressions on the women’s faces are responding with calculated charm to the man who she knows is looking at her although she doesn’t know him. The woman’s attention is directed at the spectator owner of the painting. Women are seldom shown dancing, they have to be shown languid, exhibiting a minimum energy. They are there to feed an appetite, not to have any of their own.’
  • Absurdity! The only images we were seeing of women were them silent, mute.
  • How men see women, or how they saw them in the past and how this influences how women see themselves today.

Berger asks women from the general public their thoughts about these paintings:

‘Paintings idealized and therefore unreal in any connection I might have of an image of myself. They don’t mean human beings to me.’

‘I compare myself to photographs more than paintings.’

‘Manet painting- the women aware of being humiliated.’

‘Women are always dressing as a part, to show the kind of character they want to be.’

‘Concept of availability = passivity. Opposite of action.’

‘Women’s sense of identity is based on what others think of them. But a man’s identity is based on his interaction with the world.’

Episode 3
  • The beginning of the video shows footage of apples and fish at a market are interspersed with fish and apples in oil paintings. Playing over the top of the video is the sound from a modern day marketplace. Berger shows us people buying from the market. The exchange of money for these fresh products.
  • ‘We buy, we consume, ours to give away, or more often, to keep.’
  • The focus of the footage is not on the people’s faces or their identity, but on the act of handling goods, valuing them and buying them. Jewellery. Buying valuable objects.
  • The most valuable object of all has become the oil painting. Oil paintings depict things. Buying the painting is almost like buying the object within the painting. Paintings often show treasures, but paintings have become treasures themselves
  • A love of art= a sublime human experience
  • What are these paintings? They are objects which can be bought and owned. Unique objects. A patron cannot be surrounded by music or poems as he can by pictures. They show him sights and many subjects. The only thing the paintings have in common : oil paints.
  • The scenes that are depicted show wealth. Implicit in the wealth of European cultures, was the destruction of other cultures. But the Europeans believed their civilization was more advanced than any other.
  • Paintings have symbolised wealth and power for centuries in different cultures, but they showed an order , European paintings showed a different kind of wealth. Their paintings glorified the ability to buy and furnish and to own.
  • The paintings show the owner’s social status. Exaggerated claims. It is their clothes, not faces that dazzle. Oil paint allowed the subjects to be painted and look tangible. Privileged minority. Making a record of themselves.
  • A painting gave the owner the pleasure of seeing themselves as the owner of their land.
  • ‘The sight of it, makes us want to possess it.’ Publicity has taken the place of oil paintings in this way. (paintings were a place to show off our possessions)

Hella Jongerius                                           

In class, we were shown 2 images and ask to write 100 words on each. I felt there was a connection between the 2 images, but did not guess that they were made by the same designer, Hella Jongerius. For the first image, I decided to write a creative response to the image. Luisa has told us that writing creatively and telling a story is part of a graphic designer’s skills. This piece was called Red Flower. When I first saw the image, I did not notice the plate until my classmate pointed it out. Then I saw the plate and the table as a setting for the artwork.  I could not see how the stitches were attached to the plate. Only now, can I see the holes made in the plate to thread the thread through. (I could have got closer to the screen in the classroom and I may have been able to see the holes in the ceramic plate.)

Hella Jongerius | Red Flower Embroidered Tablecloth (Circa 1999) | MutualArt

My response to the image:

For the second image, we were asked to write about how it compares to the first. This image is called Stacked vase sculpture:

It was really interesting to hear my classmate’s views on the same images. I agreed with their points.

I quickly searched the designer and mainly looked at her other artworks. This helped me gain an understanding of the pieces we were shown and how they link.

Jongeriuslab design studio

At the end of the lecture, Luisa introduced us to the next brief, which is the presentation based on our chosen object. She explained that InDesign is a good programme to use for making presentation slides. I have only ever used Microsoft powerpoint, so this will be a new task for me.  It was good to have an idea of what our aim is for the trip on Monday. This will help me to prepare, for example, I can take a sheet of questions written down to act as pointers to guide me. Going to London might be busy and hectic, so having these questions or bullet points can help me stay focused.

Looking at The Design Museum website helped us to get an idea of what to expect on our visit.


  • Relationship between form and function
  • How it looks, what it is, your photos and other’s photos
  • Use rich vocab: composition, layout, asymmetry, symmetry, organic, ephemeral, geometric, texture, luster, tactile quality
  • Function- ergonomics, sometimes obvious, sometimes not, user friendly, does it communicate a message, is it entertaining? How does it do it?
  • Context- history of the designer- where in the world? From a movement? When was it made?
  • Was it successful for its purpose? Bear in mind when it was made. Did it discriminate people? Appropriate for design needs? Problematic? It may be successful in 1 aspect but problematic in another aspect.
  • Emotional needs- functional but boring, emotionally dry, entertaining, environmental needs- 80s object may be disposable, toxic plastics, no thought for environmental problem.
  • Gut reaction – what is your initial mood about the object?
  • The presentation runs for 5 minutes. You will need to make it interesting and tell a story about your object, could be the story of you encountering the object. Take photos of the building.

Museum of the Ordinary

The study of Semiotics suggests that who is reading the image, is important in determining the message. Semiosis is the process of How we take meaning from a sign. Roland Barthes was a French literary critic and philosopher. He felt that the meaning of words as well as images are dependent on the viewer.

Denotation= The literal or primary meaning of an image.

Connotation= This is the meaning of a sign depending on our interpretations. This means the connotation is something that always changes.

Ways of Seeing- John Berger

As mentioned in a previous blog post, Writing & Research Skills. John Berger wrote a book and BBC documentary entitled Ways of Seeing, in which he discusses semiotics:

‘We never look at just one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves.’

‘The way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe.’

John Berger, Ways of Seeing

‘The photographer’s way of seeing is reflected in his choice of subject. The painter’s way of seeing is reconstituted by the marks he makes on the canvas or paper.’

In this quote, he is saying that a photographer is selecting and bringing attention to an element. He/she is showing something about their perception within this photo. A photo cannot be objective if a person is behind the lens.

An example Berger gives in his book is the painting Venus and Mars by Boticelli.

Sandro Botticelli | Venus and Mars | NG915 | National Gallery, London

Isolating a part of the image means you see something differently by the way it is framed.

If we frame just Venus’ face, the image looks like a portrait painting of a young lady. We need to see the painting as a whole to understand the context.

Open work- Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco Was an Italian philosopher, social commentator, and novelist. In his work, he speaks about the Ideal reader. This is someone who is aware of the possibilities of interpretation in a work.

From Visual Signs by David Crow:

  • ‘Eco prefers the term “encyclopedia,” rather than the more common term “code,” to describe the transfer of meaning through the use of signs. For Eco, a code implies a one-to-one transfer of meaning like a dictionary definition, whereas encyclopedia suggests that there are a number of interrelated interpretations and readers must negotiate their own path through the network of possibilities.’
  • ‘It is important to note that he sees information as something different from meaning or message. He suggests that the amount of information contained in a message depends on the probability of the reader’s already knowing the content of the message before it is received.’
  • ‘Eco argues that contemporary art contains much higher amounts of information, though not necessarily more meaning, by virtue of its radical nature. More conventional forms of communication—such as the road sign, for example, or figurative painting— may carry more distinct meaning but much less information.’
  • ‘If a newsflash tells me that tomorrow the sun will rise, I have been given very little information as I could have worked this out for myself. If, however, the newsflash tells me that the sun will not rise, then I have a lot of information as this is a highly improbable event.’
  • ‘Eco also points out that the amount of information contained in a message is affected by another factor: our confidence in the source of the message.’
  • ‘If a landlord were to tell me an apartment had damp problems before I rented it, I would be more inclined to believe him because he has nothing to gain by fabricating this message.’
  • ‘The amount of information is greater when the content or the source is improbable.’
  • ‘”Christmas is an annual festival.” This has a very clear and direct meaning with no ambiguity, yet it doesn’t add to our existing knowledge. In other words, although the communicative value is high, the amount of information is low.’

A piece of discarded material can become an artifact once it has been framed.

Umberto Eco

Framing brings attention to something e.g. cracks in the road spray painted to mark for repair. At this location, they have marked areas for drilling into, on the asphalt. This makes us aware of areas and focus on areas we otherwise would not notice.

Ground Penetrating Radar Utility Scanning – East Handover, NJ (
Frames within frames

In this week’s workshop, we were taking photographs around campus. I experimented with using a photo frame to draw attention to certain areas and then taking a picture of the same area without the use of a frame. I wanted to see what difference the frame would make.

Before the workshop, I wrote down a collection of words that related to my object, The Raincoat Girl. I then wrote words that did not describe the object.

I used these words as inspiration when taking photos around campus. It was challenging to find subjects and locations in a short space of time. (We had around 40 minutes for this task.) It was harder than I thought to find objects I was happy with.

I used the frame to draw the focus to the entrance of the building.

I placed the frame in a place that highlighted the fragmentation of the pieces of glass. I was relating this subject to the word ‘fragile’, since my object is fragile. I chose the blue and green area because my object is blue and green was one of the words I wrote to describe what my object was not.

I took this photo in the Richard Hamilton Building on campus. Two objects here are used for communication: a telephone and a fire alarm. Both objects are useful and even essential. I found that this contrasted with my object which is purely decorative and does not serve any vital or important purpose.

I chose to focus in on one object. I found it interesting that the phone looks old fashioned and would look at home beside my object. even though their functions are very different.

There is a lot going on in the design of this post at the exterior of Headington Hill Hall. It is old fashioned and decorative, like my object.

Framing one area of the pillar helps to focus in one one element of the design.

After taking the photos, we needed to place the photos in an InDesign document. InDesign was suitable because we needed to then add labels next to each photo. The label resembled the caption placed next to an artwork in a museum or gallery. It was fun to see the photos presented in this way. I liked the addition of the word next to the image as a title because it added more meaning to the image and helped present the message I had in mind when taking the photo.

InDesign process

I selected File>document set up. This gave me the option of choosing the number of pages in the document. In the same window, I could also unselect facing pages. This meant that I could view one page at a time.

I could use the page tool to change the page’s orientation, if one of my photos happened to be in a landscape orientation for example. This option is located at top of the page.

(The document needs to be on essentials classics for me to complete these steps.)

If this is not switched on, I can change this by selecting Window>workspace>essentials classic.

File> place to place an image in InDesign.

Writing & Research Skills

Literature Review

In week 2, our lecturer Luisa assigned each of us a female designer to research. The designer I was given was Rebeca Méndez. She is a contemporary graphic designer and fine artist. Méndez was born in New Mexico in 1962. Within her art, she focuses on environmental subjects, systems, cycles natural and human phenomena. She expresses her concepts through film, photography and installation.

Never Happened Again, Glaciers 2 – artworks: rebeca mendez (
Life is Magnanimous: Rebeca Méndez and I – Alfalfa Studio

When searching for research material, my first instinct was to go to the Brookes library. ‘Library search’ on the Brookes website searches for journals, ejournals, ebooks, books in print and collections. I typed ‘Rebeca Mendez’ into the search bar.

All the results were for Law books.

I then searched in other places and kept a record of where I had searched.

Search History:

Library search no luck

Oxford Reference no luck

Bridgeman education no luck

Oxford art online no luck

I sourced 2 ejournal articles and was able to request them from the library.
I printed the article and used pens to highlight and annotate.

In week 3’s lecture, we were asked to write the first 100 words of our assignment.

We then shared some of what we wrote and received feedback. It was helpful to hear Luisa’s feedback for my classmate’s work, as I found myself making the same mistakes as them.

For example, a few tips she gave us to think about:

  • “One interesting aspect of the book…” instead of “It’s interesting.”
  • “The author recounts…” instead of “the author says.”
  • Avoid long quotations
  • “The article places emphasis on…”
  • Focus on the core aspects of the interview.

Within this week’s lecture, we began by watching Ways of Seeing. This is a documentary from the 1970’s with John Berger. We watched part 4 and made notes.

John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 4 (1972) – YouTube

This is a BBC documentary, aimed at the wider general public in Britain. Berger delivers the documentary in a didactic style.


The series was made into a book, which has interesting design features.

Our lecturer Luisa then asked us to describe in 50 words what the documentary is about:

(my response)

John Berger talks to us about the images we see around us everyday. He uses the phrase ‘publicity’ to talk about images used in advertising, and in the media around us. He makes comparisons between these images and the oil paintings of the past. He explains that the images used in publicity do not relate to our lives, but to an imaginary future that we are encouraged to strive for.

She then asked us what we thought of the format of the video:

He talks to us in a didactic style, like he is revealing something we have not considered before. He is filmed against a blue backdrop throughout the video. The simple background keeps the audience focused on his words. We are shown snapshots throughout that relate to the subject he is talking about. It is effective in helping us make a visual connection by seeing these examples. By showing us the scenes of factory workers, we are forced to see the reality of our lives in direct comparison to the scenes of glamour we are being fed by publicity.

The purpose of this exercise, as well as teaching us design history/theory, was for us to practice our writing skills. We need to learn to write in 2 ways: analytical and fun/interesting. This writing exercise helped me to prepare for the literature review next week. Giving us a word limit of roughly 50 words, encouraged me to think about writing in a concise way.

We then looked at artwork by Dora Maar:

Luisa asked us to write 100 words in response to the image.

The image first reminded me of the hand washed up on the beach at the beginning of the film Jaws (1975). I felt that I was not very imaginative in this exercise. I wrote in the first style I thought of, which is to analyse a piece of artwork. This meant my writing sounded very essay-like. I asked myself ‘How can I tell more of a story within my writing?’