Perspective & Ways of Seeing

Back in school, someone loaned me a copy of Ways of Seeing by John Berger. Since it is still in my possession, I obviously forgot to return it. I wonder if Jane is annoyed? She would likely be more annoyed knowing that I did not get around to reading it until yesterday.

The book falls in the realm of art criticism or art theory and discusses the evolution of oil paintings, perspective, and purpose through text and, uniquely, sections that are entirely pictorial. One of his assertions (made much more eloquently than I) is that perspective affects your way of seeing. But instead of using a cover song and the original (Franky and the Boss), he points to an original oil painting and its reproductions. Specifically, Virign on the Rocks by Leonardo Da Vinci. He then goes on to write:

Having seen this reproduction, one can go to the National Gallery to look at the original and there discover what the reproduction looks like. Alternatively one can forget about the quality of the reproduction and simply be reminded, when one sees the original, that it is a famous painting of which somewhere one has already seen a reproduction. But in either case the uniqueness of the origininal now lies in it being the original of a reproduction. It is no longer what its image shows that strikes one as unique; its first meaning is no longer to be found in what it says, but what it is.

...The meaning of the original work no longer lies in what it uniquely says but what it uniquely is. [Ways of Seeing, p21, original emphasis]

The original creation, be it painting or musical recording, isn't appreciated for itself as a work of art but rather through the novelty of being the original of something seen or heard before. Whatever original message contained in the work is distorted -- even totally ignored -- in the shadow of the reproduction. Granted, when I heard Springsteen's original of Frankie's cover, I respected it for being the original but tuned it out in favor of the cover version. Chalk it up to the folly of youth?

If the original is tainted, what then of the reproduction? Berger asserts that with oil paintings, reproductions are admired because hey are valuable and should be admired. It seems to me that this argument applies any time there is a Canon -- works approved, consecrated, and placed up on the alabaster shelves for all humanity. With this type of art, the original is first visited under coersion in school because it is a classic; it's reproduction (movie) is visited because it comes from a "great work" (and has Tom Cruise or Kate Blanchette in it).

Account for the different ways male and females are portrayed and the situation becomes much more complicated. Berger covers these and other issues in his book; I recommend you pick up a copy and see if you agree with him. It was published in 1972 or thereabouts and is a good read. He even throws knowledge of the classics out there as a class delineator. Bourgeoise.

(Yes, bourgeoise. Heck, if you pursue this course of reasoning too far, Ways of Seeing is itself academic bourgeoise drivel. I guess with literary or art theory, a proposition isn't drivel if I subscribe to it but is if I don't. Or it's a tool of the Man. Putting that aside, Berger does present solid material and a great framework.)

Turning back to the BizTalk Server documentation, how do whitepapers, blogs, newsgroup content, and third-party press books change how people see the original documentation? Quality certainly plays a role -- if a blog is perceived to go into more detail about content-based routing, using more pictures and a more conversational tone, readers will likely prefer it over the original. What about marketing messages, labs, and web seminars?

Expectations are different for each content type. Understanding how readers approach content and are affected by the path they take can help us write better documentation. And learn a bit about the Dutch Masters.

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