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John Berger

Still from Ways of Seeing, 1972, a TV show on BBC. John Berger.

TO EXPLAIN why John Berger was such a great writer about art, it’s easiest to start with questions of boredom. What first struck me, when I saw the classic 1972 TV series Ways of Seeing and read the book adapted from it, was the way Berger made boring old paintings of men in ruffs look interesting. He was able to do this—and so much more—because he was the least boring writer on art there has ever been. Think, on the other hand, of that lavish catalogue accompanying the wonderful show of whatever at the museum of wherever. You really wanted a souvenir of your visit, but when you looked at the catalogue’s essays, your heart—well, it didn’t exactly soar, did it? You bought the book anyway and lugged it home. But that sensation, as you slit the shrink-wrap—was it a tremble of anticipated pleasure or a faint gurgle of dread? Either way, the feeling when you got to

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