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Walter Benjamin - Class Notes

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  • 1. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction Walter Benjamin 
  • 2.
    • “ The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction , has become a standard reference for any attempts to analyze and understand the interrelation of political, technological and artistic development under capitalism. His insights are especially useful for the political analysis of film." 
    • -from Jump Cut, Richard Kazis 
  • 3. Preface.
      • The transformation that a piece of art takes over the years is crucial to the ever-changing 'outcome' of the piece of art.
      • This transformation can only be analyzed after the transformation, not in the era when the art was created.
    • "The concepts which are introduced in the theory of art [...] are useful for the formulation of revolutionary 
    • demands in the politics of art"
    • - W. Benjamin
  • 4. I. Past Reproducibility of Art
      • Works of art have always been reproducible. 
        • Greeks: founding and stamping
        • Woodcut (etching and engraving)
        • Lithography (tracing a design onto stone)
        • Photography (first type of pictorial reproduction)
        • Film 
      • By 1900, "technical reproduction had reached a standard that not only permitted it to reproduce all transmitted works of art [...] it also had captured a place of its own among the artistic processes."
    •                 
  • 5. II. Flaws in Reproduction
      • Even the best reproductions of art lack the presence in time (history of its existence) and space (viewing art in its authentic form) of the artwork.
      • The presence of the original artwork is KEY.
        • Manual reproduction - there are always discrepancies from the original due to error.
        • Technical reproduction - the copy looks identical to the original and it also allows for many copies to be created and put into many situations (in a museum vs in a house) 
    • Reproduction eats away at the sense of authenticity to the point that the existence of an Original will disappear.
  • 6. III. Effects of Mass Production
      • Perceptions change based on natural and historical circumstances
      •   The act of reproducing a work of art diminishes the aura/value
      •   Bringing something closer eliminates the beauty it has from a distance
      • Seeing a work of art reproduced in a magazine or a newsreel differs from seeing the original work of art in person.
      • Not only will our perception of creative works change, but our thoughts and considerations will change as well based on our ability to mass produce
    •              "If we can see the reproduction,
    •           why should we go see the original?"
  • 7. IV. l'art pour l'art   (Art for Art)
      • Earliest art originated from ritual
        • ex. Statue of Venus was venerated by Greeks and was also an idol in the Middle Ages.
        • Art's function was ritualistic.
      • During Renaissance, ritual function declined while the emergence of photography and socialism lead to the theology of art - l'art pour l'art
    • " For the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual"
  • 8. V. Cult Value vs. Exhibition Value
    • Cult Value:
      • the meaning the art serves for the person who creates it. 
      • ritualistic
    • Exhibition Value:
      • the meaning the art takes  for the public eye when the art is labeled as a "piece of art"
      • secular
      • photography and film, meant to be in the public eye, are indications of art's value transformation.
  • 9. VI. Triumph of Exhibition Value...?
      • As cult value diminishes, a historical exhibition value takes over.
      • Photographs become historical records, even though the artist took them as works of art.
        • ex. Atget's photographs of deserted Paris streets. He took them like they were a crime scene  but they will be viewed as a visual comparison between past and present Paris.
  • 10. VII. Film as an Art Form
      • Film was originally questioned as an art form, just like photography. 
        • We must understand that photography and film have "transformed the entire nature of art"
      •   Gance: film is like heiroglyphics
        • we haven't begun to fully understand it as a form of expression
      • Severin-Mars: Only the most high-minded persons, in the most perfect and mysterious moments of their lives, should be allowed to enter its ambience.”
      • Werfel: “The film has not yet realized its true meaning, its real possibilities ... these consist in its unique faculty to express by natural means and with incomparable persuasiveness all that is fairylike, marvelous, supernatural.”
  • 11. VIII. Theater vs. Film Theater: The audience sees what they choose to focus on. There is interaction between the actor and the audience. Film: The audience sees what the camera shows No interaction between the actor and the audience. maybe  
  • 12. IX. Stage acting vs. Film acting
    • Stage: 
      • aura of the actor and the role he plays connects with the audience
      • actor identifies himself with the character/role.
    • Film:
      • Aura of role is gone, left with just the actor and his persona as an actor.
        • see a movie because you want to see that actor more than you want to know the plot
      • Film is composed of many separate, edited performances that are altered and redone by technology. 
    • Film acting's foundation relies on mechanical reproduction
  • 13. X. Rise of an Industry
      • All forms of media start out with many viewers and few producers/participants.  
      • As the industry develops, more people become participants/producers.
    • ex. Newspaper, readers are now able to be published in the paper easier thanks to the editorial section. (You can also publish things on the web through blogs, comments, etc).
    • ex. Film, there were only one or two actors, but now there are hundreds of extras in each movie, and can make your own movie and post it online (youtube).
    • This type of participation is essential to Mechanical Art.
  • 14. XI. The Art of Film
      • Film-making is incredibly technical 
    •          but comes together to depict reality 
    •          more closely than theater.
      • On stage performance vs. On screen performance
        • film experience is superficial - edited, shot, real life representation, illusions
        • Painter and Magician are like Theater actors. 
    •                  They take things of real life and not 
    •                  hide anything
        • Cameraman and Surgeons are like 
    •              the Film maker - they are artificial and
    •              made to look real but are not real.
  • 15. XII. Viewer's Opinions
        • People act/express their views differently when they are in large groups rather than when they are alone.
        • Individuals dislike being told what to think, but they like to come up with a collective view of art with the public.
          • Film success is because individuals are tricked into having a view on a movie based on the director's view.
          • Paintings fail because they do not provide a uniform interpretation.
  • 16. XIII. Film and Psychoanalysis
      • Benjamin supported Freud and Psychoanalysis.
      • He believed that using film by pausing/slowing down to view details could be very influential in psychoanalysis.
        • Freudian slips and subtle movements could be analyzed
        • Argued that film was a better medium for analysis than stage performances, art or books, because it captured so many details that could be examined.
    • The camera introduces us to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses.
  • 17. XIV. Film vs Dadaism
      • Primary role of art has always been the creation of demand that is fulfilled by other things later.
      • Dadaism created demand that was fulfilled by film. 
      • Dadaism = word salads, obscenities, commonplace items all thrown together on a canvas
      • Both Dadaism and Films have the same shocking effect on a spectator.
  • 18. XV. Art for the Masses
      • Masses have changed the way art is viewed, seeking out distraction even though "art demands concentration from spectator"
      • This has led to:
        • the survival of architecture over time
    •                                      vs
        • absent-minded critic of films, requiring
    •               no intelligence or concentration at all.
  • 19. Epilogue.
      • We have turned into the "masses," and that we are somewhat kept in place by art.
      • However, art has become a political form of control (in regards to Fascism)
      • The ease of reproducibility and new mechanical factor of art takes away from the aura, therefore "politicizing art"
      • Film has not been efficiently adapted yet - use it as political tool (weapon).
    Uncontrolled technology leads to war.