In John Berger’s video, Ways of Seeing, he states his theory of how a situation can change the significance of a painting. Whether the situation be in a silent room or in a room with music playing in the background, the simplest things can change the significance of the painting.
Many theorists have presented ideas about how reproduction can change a piece of art. John Berger has presented his ideas in his video Ways of Seeing. His main idea that he explains throughout the video is how the situation when viewing a painting can change its significance. He goes on to explain how the invention of cameras and reproducing paintings is the main cause of the change in significance of a paintings. He always states that the environment of viewing the painting changes the significance as well. I will be analyzing Eminem’s “Beautiful” in comparison to John Berger’s theory; as a result, I will conclude how like paintings, the significance of a song can be manipulated by its surrounding situation.
John Berger’s Theory
John Berger states in his video that the simplest situations can change the significance of a painting. Silent rooms with no distractions is the best way to get the original significance of the painting. Seeing the painting in its original setting is where you will get the closest message that the artist was trying to get across. Berger explains how the invention of cameras is what started the manipulation of a painting’s significance. It allows the audience or viewers to view the painting where ever they want. For example, it is no longer necessary to go to a museum to see a painting, you can simply search for it online and you will find a picture that someone has taken of that painting. It no longer holds the same significance. The painting is manipulated because people are seeing it in all kinds of different situations and settings. They can be seeing it in a car, walking down the street, projected on a screen, or even in bed on their cell phone. All these are completely different setting and environments and can have an infinite amount of chaos surrounding it. Simple things like music playing in the background changes the significance, or even things like having another painting next to it. I am taking a similar approach to what Berger is saying, but stating that music can also be manipulated by its surrounding situation. John Berger says that the significance of a painting is changed depending on the situation of its presentation. However, his theory does not only connect to paintings. A song’s significance can also be changed when listening to it in different situations. In the song Eminem is challenging the audience to put themselves in another situation to change your perspective before you jump to conclusions on how you feel. He is challenging that sometimes it is necessary to view things in a different situation in order to get the real or true meaning of it. John Berger states that the music being played when looking at an artwork manipulates the meaning and significance. So like music, I noticed that people around while listening to music manipulates the meaning and significance.
Beautiful in Context
Eminem’s song “Beautiful” has an inspiring message. The song has a lot of significance not only because of its lyrics but because of its surrounding situation in the album itself. Just the simple fact that it was including in the Relapse album itself shows a tremendous significance. As stated before, the album includes songs mostly about drug abuse and crime. Eminem surprises his audience by including this song with an encouraging message. In the album the song before beautiful it is when
Eminem is recovered to a hospital, and the song "Déjà Vu" addresses his overdose in and drug dependency during his break from music. In the song, Eminem also explains how this has affected him in the last five years, to the point where his daughter has become scared of her father's behavior. “Beautiful", a ballad which samples "Reaching Out" by Rock Therapy, also deals with the same time period where Eminem believed he had "reached rock bottom" and lost hope for his future. Eminem felt it was important to include "Beautiful" on the album as a reminder to himself as well as "anybody who is in a dark place that you can get out of it "After "Crack a Bottle", a collaboration with Dr. Dre and 50 Cent. This song is a different change in pace compared to “Beautiful.” Since the surrounding songs.
Eminem and John Borger in Agreement
Eminem encourages his listeners in his chorus where he says “But you'd have to walk a thousand miles/ In my shoes, just to see/ What it's like, to be me/ I'll be you, let's trade shoes/ Just to see what it'd be like to/ Feel your pain, you feel mine/ Go inside each other's minds/ Just to see what we find/ Look at shit through each other's eyes/ But don't let 'em say you ain't beautiful.” Here he is saying that sometimes it is necessary to change your situation or point of view to see a different significance. In a way he is challenging Berger’s theory by saying that different significances can be good. He is also saying that it will take a lot to change your perspective and how you view a situation.
In the closing verse he says “But I already told you my whole life story/ Not just based on my description/ 'cause where you see it from where you're sitting/ It's probably 110% different/ I guess we would have to walk a mile/ In each other's shoes, at least”. In these lines I found an agreement with Berger’s theory. Both of them are stating that different situation will give you a different interpretation to what it is you are viewing.
The Theory Put to Test
Listening to the song in different situations changes how one may feel about the song. I experienced the manipulation of the significance myself when listening to the song in a different setting.
For example, in the car alone: I was able to really listen to the words and think about the meaning though the meaning is pretty clear.
At home with people: I was able to sing along but did not pay much attention to the words, I did not enjoy the song the same way I did before when in the car.
At home with people and reading lyrics as I listen: I paid more attention to the words obviously but still did not enjoy it the same as when I was alone. I did not feel as much emotion.
I noticed that I paid less attention to the lyrics and more on the visual aspect of the song. However it did bring more meaning to the lyrics after it was over.
John Berger states that the significance of paintings can be manipulated by their situations, settings and surroundings. I found that the significance of music can also be manipulated the same way that paintings can be manipulated. Eminem’s song “Beautiful” can be manipulated in a plethora of ways. Eminem is purposely manipulated by its placement in the album. Not just by its surrounding songs but the song being included in the album in general. The song is not like the rest of the album, it is not a common hip-hop rap song, it is a ballad, which gives the song so much meaning and significance to have made it on the album. John Berger and Eminem are both in agreement by saying that how we view things changes ones perspective and the significance. Even though in Eminem’s song he is talking about how a change in perspective about life can change how we view a situation it is still in correlation to Berger’s theory. They both agree that situations change how we view things.
Emely Lomeli is a Child and Adolescent Development major at California State University, Northridge.