Berger & Grootenboer (05 July)

Berger seemed much more concerned with the historical context in which Rembrandt painted The Night Watch, and Grootenboer seemed to focus on bigger concepts like theatricality. Both discussed self-concept and self-image and how both were developing and changing through portraiture in the Netherlands at the time; again, Berger’s evidence was more rooted in concrete historical details like who the sitters actually were, whereas Grootenboer spoke more generally and conceptually about how the internal and the external were revealed through portraiture.

When it comes to tone and voice, reading through Berger’s piece felt much more conversational and less academic than Grootenboer’s. Both talked pretty technically about art and art history, but Berger’s was a little lighter and easier for me to read, and certainly felt more casual. He even broke in with a few political jokes such as “They don’t have an NRA problem,” when referring to the militiamen being called “Shooters” (p. 184). Additionally, Berger’s article felt more personal to his ongoing experience of The Nightwatch, and I felt he was asking himself as much as anyone else for the answers to the questions he asked. Grootenboer only really referred to herself when she was previewing or recapping in her article. 

Westermann’s book felt as scholarly/academic as Grootenboer’s article, perhaps even more so; Westermann totally removed herself from her writing, preferring to speak entirely in the third person about the art, artists, and history she was highlighting. That being said, I think both of the articles we read today went more in-depth than Westermann typically did about the topics at hand. For example, both Berger and Grootenboer dove pretty deep into some philosophical questions about self-concept and how it related to portraiture. I think Westermann had such a broad range of topics to cover that she could only do so much with each topic; essentially, A Worldly Art seems especially like an intro-level textbook compared to these two technical journal articles.


8 thoughts on “Berger & Grootenboer (05 July)

  1. Hi Joe,

    I found the difference in tone in these pieces striking while “both talked pretty technically about art and art history,” the tone of each article drastically differed as you mentioned. Berger’s was much accessible for someone that does not know much about art and art history while Grootenboer’s would be a little more difficult to comprehend. It was interesting that both of the authors could expand on their arguments while writing so differently about the material. I think it was an important observation to make when considering the content of both of the articles as well. They both discussed the artist’s intentions when painting the piece, but the arguments they used varied drastically.


  2. I found the different that he picked up on the concerning the tone of voice to be extremely accurate. I completely agree with him that Berger’s article is less formal and reads less as an academic article. It also complete makes sense since both of the other articles Westermann’s book and Grootenber’s article seem to more high regard and more scholarly.


    1. I find it even more interesting how they even writing in different points of view and how that effects the read of the article and leaves a different effect on the reader. It is interesting how subtle details can make a such a big different. As always though “the devil is in the details” (a saying). I would like to expand on that more. I am curious as to why never wanted to make his article less scholarly. Was it intentional?


      1. *I am curious as to why he wanted to make his article less scholarly. Was it intentional?


  3. Joe, that’s an astute observation, tersely stated, about the difference between these two articles: Berger on historical context (the individuals’ real world identities, the proper way to hold a musket), Grootenboer more on the concept of the format or genre (portraiture AS performance, and all that entails). I think there’s a lot of traction you can make with this insight! Can you take elements of both when you analyze (or even just look at) a painting? Which is more helpful, do you think, in getting what’s going on in a a particular work? How does thinking of portrait as performance change the way you see a work? Could that concept apply to other genres of painting? What does it not tell you that Berger might? What kind of research would you need to do to get at the kinds of meanings Berger uncovers?

    Your observation about first person usage is also specific and therefore really useful! I think readability and approachability are key elements in any kind of writing (assuming an audience beyond a very narrow group of specialists, in which case jargonated obtuseness is fine by me if it works for them!). Where do you think Berger’s first-person approach works best? and least? What about Grootenboer: does first person work where she uses it? How else doe she create readability for you? What other prose tactics does she use to lead you along and keep you included/interested as a reader? What of these tactics do you want to use in your own writing?


  4. Hi Joe,

    I agree with everything you posted here. Berger was indeed very informal in his writing style and I did appreciate his NRA joke as well. I was surprised that he would make such a bold statement at first, but I assume very few gun totting 2nd amendment advocates spend their free time reading about art history. I preferred Grootenboer’s piece, but I think you make an excellent point about Berger bringing in more historical details. I will say, however, that I think he went a bit overboard particularly with the extensive section about the meaning of not gripping the butt of a musket. I also think you’re right that both of these authors went into greater depth than Westermann (particularly in her introduction). I have really enjoyed reading Westenmann thus far because her book does not read like a rigid piece of academic text. It’s stylistic and flows logically.


    1. Hi Joe! Great work. One of the things you said stuck out to me in particular– you mentioned that, “I felt [Berger] was asking himself as much as anyone else for the answers to the questions he asked.” Do you think that Berger set out to prove a specific point or was his piece meant to provoke readers to engage in a larger discussion? Berger ends his article with a series of open ended questions, whereas Grootenboer’s essay seems like a well formed thesis paper (i.e. thesis, supporting evidence, conclusion). Do you think one format was more effective than the other?


      1. Excellent questions, here, Cheney, about effectiveness of these two distinctive formats of essay: one more open ended, inquiry-based, one more thesis-driven, argumentative (in the good sense of that term), and perhaps seemingly “closed”?


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