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Ways Of Seeing

Today is the seventh of ten Tuesdays leading up to the 2020 November general election. Each Tuesday until Election Day on November 3, we will be posting topics on democracy, voting, and justice in order to spark conversations about the upcoming election.

Ways of Seeing

Written by Kilala Ichie-Vincent

When you look, how do you look? Maybe a judgement passed, an analysis made, then information recorded to be used at a later time. Do you focus on what you see?  The perspective and the series of perspectives we look from are what dictate the world around us. From art to movies to the very homes we grow up and live in, it is ever present. We are usually quite unaware of this phenomenon; there are very few conversations in which we question what's around us. The society that we live in is based off of constructs we follow but have never quite been taught in a classroom explicitly. Rather, they are taught to us through movies, books, television, art, and countless other artistic forms. 

But these artistic forms are also created by these norms. An idea of one man can quickly become the constructs of many. There is a positive feedback loop between the two; the contents of a painting expressing the notions of how a person should eat, breath, act, and exist can quickly become canons of work that becomes an ideal in society. For an example,  With that being said, the artworks that we so highly value today have had an impact on the way we exist as individuals. 

For an example, John Berger writes and explains this phenomena in great detail in his series “Ways of Seeing.” He does so through examining the relationship between the artist and their relationship with the viewer, to time and place,the piece and its relation to society, and its socio-political relationship with media and presentation. Most importantly, he emphasizes art and its relation to the viewer — coalescing all of his previous points to arguably the most important. Recognizing the way art is presented, who it’s created by and the kind of political view that might be taken from it are all imperative to his theory. 

As a result, as we look and consume the information around us, we are just as likely to adopt these notions as a part of life. Something that I found particularly shocking in this notion is the amount of influence things we have in our daily lives change the way we exist. The most obvious and extreme example has been social media and its impact on its community. Teens who invest heavily on social media have been found to be more depressed, developed eating disorders, and have generally been negatively impacted. 

In a more broad way, the houses that we live in impact the ways we live. If you design a room to be smaller, less people will want to be there, making it less desirable. In East Berlin, it was customary to have smaller dining rooms in your house because people were accustomed to and were encouraged to build better relationships with their factory mates. In an entirely different sense, many of the buildings in America are meant to push colonialism within society. In “Race and Modern Architecture,” the authors briefly explain in their introduction how suburban homes were part of a post war campaign in the 1950s depicting a “cultural ideal of white identity associated with cleanliness, order, property, and the nuclear family.” In current day, the suburbs are an ideal — what most people who are beginning families strive to have. The suburban home is an ideal american dream. 

I write all this — with the upcoming election in mind — to give a quick glance at us. Us as Americans, us as a society, and us as individuals. Despite any outcome, it is important to continue to educate ourselves, continue to question what we take for face value, and push to hold those who are in power and represent us accountable. 

Stay tuned for another election-related post next Tuesday, October 20th.

Kilala Ichie-Vincent is a junior in the Taubman school of Architecture. She enjoys researching and understanding ways in which our society works and how the world influences people.

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