Landscapes in the loosest, most metaphorical sense of the term, this illuminating compilation of essays by Berger (Portraits, 2015, etc.) aims to situate a range of art criticism into an accessible realm.
“People, many people, have lost all their political bearings,” writes the author in “Ten Dispatches about Place.” “Mapless, they do not know where they are heading.” In Berger’s latest collection, editor Overton compiles a selection of essays from the 1950s to today that function as maps to guide one’s way of thinking about a place, idea, or philosophy. Berger is a masterful observer, a trait that lends his writing a profound element of artistry: these essays, often economically executed in under eight pages, read like sketched studies of an as-yet-painted masterwork. In the 1987 essay “To Take Paper, to Draw,” Berger explains that drawing can function in three different ways: “There are those that study and question the visible; those that record and communicate ideas; and those done from memory.” These deft essays fall into this rubric as well. Centerpieces like the “The Moment of Cubism” and “Parade and the Beginning of Surrealism” study and question art as a mirror of society and propose instead “the model of the diagram”; these texts are indispensable for any student of art history and should be required reading in collegiate seminars. Alternatively, some essays lumber toward the philosophical and societal: texts on Max Raphael, Frederick Antal, and Berger’s own Marxism swirl, at times impenetrably, with revolutionary ideas. But it’s those essays “from memory,” like “Kraków” and “Stones (Palestine, June 2003),” which open and close the compilation, that exemplify Berger not only as a fine philosopher, but a traveler striving to record the aching, confounding beauty of the world around him.
Although Landscapes requires some observational flexibility to experience with a feeling of cohesion, these worldly essays are timeless, inspiring works of critical observation.