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The Work of Art In The Age of ... (?)


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This presentation looks at the maybe over used essay by Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in The Age of Mechanical Reproduction" and looks at its relevance to digital arts practice.

The Work of Art In The Age of ... (?)

  1. 1. Walter Benjamin and The Work of Art in the Age of… (Mechanical Reproduction?)
  2. 2. <ul><li>Benjamin, W., (1935). The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction is one of the most reproduced essays of 20c </li></ul><ul><li>It is (maybe) still a essay but must be seen inside a context. (written in 1935) </li></ul><ul><li>Response to photography and cinema </li></ul><ul><li>Photo 1839 </li></ul><ul><li>Cinema 1890s </li></ul>The work of art in the age of…
  3. 3. The work of art in the age of… <ul><li>By 1900 art has the chance to break away from, or to be broken from magic ritual and religion </li></ul><ul><li>Photomechanical reproduction is perfected, swallowing up the images of all previous art and generating its own inimitable forms </li></ul>
  4. 4. The work of art in the age of… <ul><li>Benjamin attempted new forms of writing – collage, fragmentations - (most evident in his Arcades projects) </li></ul><ul><li>“ I think of it as collage; not as trying to argue theoretically or philosophically from the top down but by making certain things visible which then produce an idea like a constellation where pieces seem to resonate with each other and then out of it comes a kind of illumination” </li></ul><ul><li>Morss, S.B., 1991. The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project New edition., MIT Press.   </li></ul>
  5. 5. <ul><li>Esther Leslie has argued that in fact that this essay about reproduction could in fact have been designed for reproduction </li></ul><ul><li>The essay for her concerns the translation of art – the move of art from one time to another, from one space to another </li></ul><ul><li>“ modern art is truly the advance guard; it ‘meets the viewer half way’ it comes out of darkened niches, out of the gallery, out of fixed time space coordinates. In the age of technical reproducibility art is at least removed figuratively and literally from its traditional spaces; indeed art disintegrates and multiplies all at once ” </li></ul><ul><li>Leslie, E., (2000). Walter Benjamin , Pluto Press.   </li></ul>
  6. 6. The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction <ul><li>“ around 1900 technical reproduction had reached a standard that not only permitted it to reproduce all transmitted works of art and thus to cause the most profound change in their impact upon the public; it also had captured a place of its own among the artistic processes. For the study of this standard nothing is more revealing than the nature of the repercussions that these two different manifestations – the reproduction of works of art and the art of film – have had on art in its traditional form” </li></ul><ul><li>Benjamin, W., 1935. The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction </li></ul>
  7. 7. The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction <ul><li>“ the technique of reproduction...loosens the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. In multiplying the reproduction, a unique occurance is substituted for one that is of mass nature. And in permitting the reproduction to meet the receiver in his own particular situation, it actualises the object reproduced” </li></ul><ul><li>Benjamin, W., 1935. The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction </li></ul>
  8. 8. <ul><li>In resituating the artwork new contexts are generated and new things come into view </li></ul><ul><li>An “optical unconscious” is disclosed and new connections are made </li></ul><ul><li>So each new transmission of the artwork makes it ‘actual’ again (significant) </li></ul>
  9. 9. <ul><li>The essay concerns itself with time and space and also film. A number of themes are explored </li></ul>
  10. 10. Aura <ul><li>“ Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence” </li></ul>
  11. 11. <ul><li>The presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity </li></ul><ul><li>Manual reproduction usually branded as forgery – the original preserved all its authority </li></ul><ul><li>Technical reproduction is more independent of the original than manual reproduction </li></ul>
  12. 12. <ul><li>In photography process reproduction can bring out those aspects of the original that are unattainable to the naked eye yet accessible to the lens </li></ul><ul><li>Enlargement, slow motion </li></ul><ul><li>“ The cathedral leaves its locale to be received in the studio of a lover of art; the choral production, performed in the auditorium or in the open air, resounds in the drawing room ” </li></ul>
  13. 13. <ul><li>Aura it seems depends on authenticity and the authenticity of a thing is the ‘essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning…to the history which it has experienced’ </li></ul>
  14. 14. <ul><li>“ The definition of aura as a ‘unique phenomenon of a distance however close it may be’ represents nothing but the formulation of the cult value of the work of art in categories of space and time perception. Distance is the opposite of closeness The essentially distant object is the unapproachable one. Unapproachability is indeed a major quality of the cult image” </li></ul>
  15. 15. <ul><li>Links aura with cult and ritual – magical and religious </li></ul><ul><li>This is the location of its original use value </li></ul><ul><li>Secularised in the cult of beauty </li></ul><ul><li>“ With the advent of the first truly revolutionary means of reproduction, photography, simultaneously with the rise of socialism, art sensed the approaching crisis which has become evident a century later” </li></ul>
  16. 16. <ul><li>“ Mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual. To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility ” </li></ul><ul><li>It makes no sense to ask for the authentic prints </li></ul><ul><li>But argues Benjamin once authenticity ceases to be applicable the function of art is reversed </li></ul><ul><li>Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on politics ???? </li></ul>
  17. 17. <ul><li>By the emphasis on its exhibition value the work of art becomes a creation with entirely new functions – the artistic one may be recognised as incidental </li></ul><ul><li>Photography and film become important </li></ul>
  18. 18. <ul><li>Benjamin argues that the futile discussions of whether photography is an art missed the point </li></ul><ul><li>“ the primary question –whether the very invention of photography had not transformed the entire nature of art- was not raised” </li></ul>
  19. 19. Reproducibility <ul><li>Mechanical reproduction is inherent in the very technique of film production </li></ul><ul><li>The camera that presents the performance of the film actor to the public need not respect the performance as an integral whole </li></ul><ul><li>The film responds to the shrivelling of the aura with an artificial build up of the ‘personality’ outside the studio </li></ul>
  20. 20. <ul><li>He seems to be arguing that film is more democratic </li></ul><ul><li>“ it is inherent in the technique of the film as well as that of sports that everybody who witnesses its accomplishments is somewhat of an expert” </li></ul>
  21. 21. <ul><li>The distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character – at any moment the reader is ready to turn into a writer </li></ul><ul><li>Importantly he makes a distinction between Russia and Western Europe </li></ul><ul><li>“ In Western Europe the capitalist exploitation of the film denies consideration to modern man’s legitimate claim to being reproduced. Under these instances the film industry is trying hard to spur the interest of the masses through illusion promoting spectacles and dubious speculations” </li></ul>
  22. 22. Technological Change <ul><li>“ The equipment free aspect of reality here has become the height of artifice; the sight of immediate reality has become an orchid in the land of technology” </li></ul><ul><li>This is a very confusing passage. It seems now to be rather contradictory - isn’t this what the classical Hollywood cinema does </li></ul>
  23. 23. <ul><li>“ There is a tremendous difference between the pictures they obtain. That of the painter is a total one, that of the cameraman consists of multiple fragments which are assembled under a new law” </li></ul><ul><li>He argues that film is more significant to contemporary man (link with the city) </li></ul>
  24. 24. <ul><li>Painting simply is in no position to present an object for simultaneous collective experience </li></ul><ul><li>“ By close-up of things around us, by focusing on hidden details of familiar objects by exploring common place milieus under the ingenious guise of the camera the film, on the one hand, extends our comprehension of the necessities which rule our lives…with the close-up space expands; with slow-motion movement is extended. The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible though unclear: it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject .” </li></ul>
  25. 25. <ul><li>“ The film is the art form that is in keeping with the increased threat to his life which modern man has to face. Man’s need to expose himself to shock effects is his adjustment to the dangers threatening him. The film corresponds to profound changes in the appreciative apparatus – changes that are experienced on an individual scale by the man in the street in big city traffic, on a historical scale by every present-day citizen” </li></ul>
  26. 26. Politics <ul><li>Finally Benjamin argues against the introduction of aesthetics into political life Fascism. This seems to stem from his discussion of mass culture and the growing proletarianization of modern man. </li></ul><ul><li>Triumph of the Will had already been released </li></ul><ul><li>Is he saying that technology cannot be neutral? </li></ul><ul><li>“ this is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicising art” </li></ul>
  27. 27. In the Age of Digital Reproduction <ul><li>“ The guardians of traditional modernism (not traditional classicism) have deprived art of its climax, exactly as the theory of coitus interruptus, foistered on poor Christian lovers in the middle ages, deprived intercourse. When we insist that High Art can only speak to Everyman (or to the Ages), we rob it of vulgar, sweating specificity. Art can't happen now, between you and me, only tomorrow, or the day after, to everyone. It's worse when we insist--as Walter Benjamin insisted--on the sacred &quot;aura&quot; of the original. You must stand in front of the Mona Lisa or else. You can't fall in love with her reproduction, no, no, no--that's masturbation. You have to fly to the Louvre in Paris and stand, forever, in line.” </li></ul><ul><li>Davis, D. The work of art in the age of digital reproduction : An Evolving Thesis/1991-1995, [available at ] </li></ul>
  28. 28. In the Age of Digital Reproduction <ul><li>“ The work of art in the age of digital reproduction is physically and formally chameleon.  There is no distinction now between &quot;original&quot; and &quot;reproduction&quot; in virtually any medium based in film, electronics, or telecommunications.” </li></ul><ul><li>Davis, D. The work of art in the age of digital reproduction : An Evolving Thesis/1991-1995, [available at ] </li></ul><ul><li>“ The aura, supple and elastic, has stretched far beyond the boundaries of Benjamin's prophecy, into the rich realm of reproduction itself.” </li></ul><ul><li>Davis, D. The work of art in the age of digital reproduction : An Evolving Thesis/1991-1995, [available at ] </li></ul>
  29. 29. In the Age of Digital Reproduction <ul><li>“ Analogue signals may be compared to a wave breaking on a beach, breaking over and over but never precisely in the same form. That is why &quot;copying&quot; an audio signal or video signal in the past always involved a loss in clarity. But digital bits, compatible at last to the new generation of tools that see, hear, speak, and compute, march in precise, soldierly fashion, one figure after another.” </li></ul><ul><li>Davis, D. The work of art in the age of digital reproduction : An Evolving Thesis/1991-1995, [available at ] </li></ul>