An international 'Thinking with John Berger' conference on the work of the intellectual took place at Cardiff Metropolitan University earlier this month.
Berger is one of the most important living European intellectuals; he is a Booker Prize-winning novelist (1972), an eminent artist and art critic since the early 1950s, and a cultural and political activist. His book and TV series Ways of Seeing (1972) revolutionized the study of art history and offered radical alternative to Kenneth Clark's Civilization.
The conference, 'Thinking with John Berger', was organised at the University's Llandaff campus by Cardiff School of Education with the support and collaboration of Cardiff School of Art and Design. It attracted delegates from as far afield as Otago, New York, Padua and the Shetland Isles and set out to explore the transformative potential of Berger's work for educational practice across a range of fields in the arts and humanities.
Forty eight thinkers and artists attended the two-day event, covering disciplines including literary studies, philosophy, education, fine art, art history, cultural studies and community practice through intensive reflection on Berger's work.
Leading scholars in literary studies, Bruce Robbins (Columbia University) and Peter de Bolla (Cambridge University) gave keynote addresses. As well as academic research papers, the conference featured a 'Drawing Partnership', headed by Chris Glynn and Natasha Mayo of Cardiff School of Art and Design. Delegates were encouraged to sketch and doodle their responses, to be gathered into a 'visual essay' which will resonate with Berger's distinctive philosophy of drawing.
This was the first conference in Wales to be dedicated to Berger's work, and only the second in the UK, following the 2012 'Ways of Seeing John Berger' conference jointly organised by Kings College and the British Library in London.
Jeff Wallace, Professor of English at Cardiff Metropolitan and the organiser of the conference, noted: 'Many people speak of 'loving' John Berger's work, but the passion of his engagement across a range of fields has perhaps meant that academia has kept him at arm's length. This conference showed how far Berger's radical humanism might be more closely integrated into our work as teachers, thinkers and artists."