Art theorist’s revered novel is translated
“Publicity turns consumption into a substitute for democracy. The choice of what one eats (or wears, or drives) takes the place of significant political choice.» These words were written in the early 1970s by John Berger, the famous British writer and art theoretician known for his clear political views. His left-wing stance, which the quote reflects, is also expressed in «A Painter of Our Time» Berger’s novel that was first published in London in 1958 and is now published for the first time in Greek by University of Crete publications. The novel follows the life of a Hungarian communist, a politically stratified artist who arrives as a refugee in London in 1938, marries an Englishwoman and finds a job as a college teacher. Through his protagonist’s life, Berger delves into the political and social developments that took place in Eastern Europe and the USSR throughout the 1950s. The book was published two years after the Budapest uprising. In many ways, it expresses the contradictions that took place during the cold-war era and the scepticism of a politically minded artist in the face of the political developments of the time. The book was addressed to the circle of left-winged British intellectuals. When it was published, John Berger was just beginning to earn a reputation in the circles of art critics and leftist intellectuals who were part of the Communist and Labor Party. One of his most critical essays of the time was «The New Nihilists,» a book review published in Labour Monthly on Kingsley Amis’s «Socialism and the Intellectuals.» In East Germany, Berger had already published his monograph on the Italian painter Renato Guttuso. In «A Painter of Our Time,» Berger compares a painter with an athlete. Both are seen as working beyond their stamina to the point of psychological and physical exhaustion. They are fighters with a cause. Another interesting aspect of the book is that its characters have counterparts in real life. Lukatz Frederick Antal, the Hungarian intellectual who had a profound effect on Berger, and the Hungarian painter Peter Peri are some of the real characters from which Berger drew his fictional personas. With an informative essay written by art historian Nikos Hadzinikolaou as a foreword, the Greek publication of Berger’s book offers an intellectual’s discerning view into the politics that swept the Western world during the ’50s.