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Girls with a Pearl Earring - Movie Review Example

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This review tells about the John Berger/ book “Ways of seeing,” the critic provides a comprehensive analysis of traditional oil paintings, with the particular interest in women paintings. The classic critical evaluation by Berger has gained popularity as an explanation of the typical male gaze…
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Girls with a Pearl Earring
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College: Girl with a Pearl Earring John Berger is one Britain’s most acclaimed art critics. In his book “Ways of seeing,”the critic provides a comprehensive analysis of traditional oil paintings, with particular interest in women paintings made by male artists. The classic critical evaluation by Berger has gained popularity as an explanation of the typical male gaze. According to the critic’s thesis, women are viewed by men for pleasure and in turn, women become submissive to this objectification. Berger’s famous work and ideas further draw attention to the relationship that exists between social class and oil painting subjects. In this case, Johannes Vermeer’s painting “Girl with a Pearl Earring” and a similar titled film directed by Peter Webber, perpetuate Berger’s idea of women objectification in traditional oil paintings. According to Berger, “Seeing comes before words” (Berger 83). This phrase clearly shows the art critic’s tendency to favour sight over spoken words. Berger’s basic idea also shows that the social meaning hidden in art is a dynamic element of traditional oil paintings like Vermeer’s. Apparently, masterpieces symbolize education, stature and culture. Additionally, subjects of the paintings present their social meaning as well. This is clearly illustrated in the film “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” where the person who commissions Vermeer’s painting is shown to be a rich, famous and educated man. In contrast, the subject is a simple and innocent maid, who has no choice but to follow her master’s instructions throughout. Another chief idea proposed by Berger is that, customary oil paintings are made with the assumption of a man’s presence in the painting or as an observer (Berger 84). Berger makes this suggestion based on the observation that a woman is normally posed in a manner that seeks to entice or please the observer. This is clearly evident in both the painting and the movie “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” The subject looks sideways over her shoulder. This posture makes her appear as if she hopes to see the person standing in her line of sight. The sideways look, coupled with the slight parting of the lips suggests that the subject is trying to please a male observer, an idea that is reinforced by the movie. The art critic suggests that women are subject to constant observation or supervision by men. As a result, women’s social presence is highly influenced by this continuous scrutiny within confined environments. Berger is keen to note that this relentless monitoring by men leads to increased self-consciousness on the women’s part. This is because a woman has to constantly watch herself and she is always worried about her self-image and men’s perception of her outward appearance. Such consciousness persists even in when a woman is carrying out basic activities (Berger 85). In the “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” which is considered to be one of Vermeer’s most appealing images, the young female subject has an exotic turban on her head, which shows that she took time to prepare for the pose. The girl gazes at the observer or painter her mouth half-opened and her eyes appear to well up. The liquid eyes could be as a result of being nervous, as shown in the film, which is undoubtedly a sign of being self-conscious. Also in the movie, the young girl appears conscious about being watched when cleaning, she also cannot help but stare at her image in the mirror and at the actual painting whenever she visits the studio. Berger creates a bad image of the effects of publicity and oil painting on people’s lives. The art critic indicates that oil paintings are utilized to promote envy, individual prosperity and materialism. Subjects in conventional oil paintings are simply tools that fuel people’s need to own specific items (Berger 99-103). This idea is clearly shown in the film, where the person who pays for Vermeer’s painting boasts about acquiring such an appealing piece of art. Further, the large scale utilized by Vermeer to create the painting shows that he intends to enhance realism by using expressive painting techniques.   For instance, the renowned artist enlivens the subject’s smile by using two white paint dots that give the impression of the lips being moist. The artist also enhances the luxurious impression of the painting by focusing on the delicate nature of her skin and her attire. Even the title of the painting, and the painting itself, includes a valuable item, that is, a pearl. This serves to increase the prestige associated with the painting. The significance of the painting is also emphasized in the film, where the wife cries with anger and envy when she realizes that the subject posed for her husband and wore her pearls. Based on the analysis of the painting and film “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” it is beyond doubt that Berger’s ideas on traditional oil paintings are valid. The paintings, like that of Vermeer, show contradiction between individualism, which is portrayed by the artist, observer and owner, and the woman who is treated as an object. The unequal relationship between men and women is rooted in culture, as well as, in consciousness of women who continue to consider themselves to be objects. Work Cited Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. London: British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books, 1972. Print. Read More
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