This is my first attempt at Academic writing. I have written a short summary on Walter Benjamin’s Essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility”. Any academic writers reading this are more than welcome in correcting and providing feedback.

This essay by Walter Benjamin, published in 1936, sheds light on the impact of mass production on the work of Art and its traditional and online gaming individual uniqueness.

Course: Communication Skills for Creative Disciplines
Tutor: Rolland Muller
Author: Walter Benjamin

Andy Warhol – Campbell Soup Cans, 1962

Andy Warhol – Campbell Soup Cans, 1962

Walter Benjamin

The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility

Summary

Published in 1936, Benjamin’s dissertation on the work of art is a discussion on the value of art and the influence of its technological reproduction on the capitalists and society. He also mentions Marx analysis on the capitalist mode of production during the industrial revolution; that discusses what could be expected in future of the capitalist production, that is – the profiteering of the lower-class as well as the dissolution of capitalism. The influence of the technological reproduction of the work of art tends to play a significant role on the cultural and political values of the society and fascists. Where politicians used the art as a means of growing their political agenda into the people of society and controlled the exhibition as to convey only the messages and methods convenient to their ambitions. Society perceived art as a unique instrument of traditional values. The reproduction of art can contribute in manipulating the credible material in the gaming favour of the fascists but on the other hand, it can be beneficial in the revolution of politics of art.

While people have always been able to replicate art through various methods since prehistoric ages. Upon the study of the history of art, it can be observed how humankind has progressed from cave paintings to writing on stones and later to etching on wood blocks. Art has always been reproduced through one way or another, sometimes for the pupil’s artistic exercise purposes, master’s exhibition of his work or for profiteers. Technological reproduction was something new, wood-cut being one of the earliest technique used in the reproduction of art, contested later in the nineteenth century by lithography.

Lithography advanced the reproduction of art by means of numbers as well as variations. This led graphic art take its place in the everyday and domestic life of the society under the influence of materialism. A decade later,  the invention of photography competed well in meeting such demands of society. Photography drew the hand of artist away from the canvas as it relied only upon the use of the eye as the tool. Indeed what could be drawn by hand could now be captured in a few moments, more swiftly through the lens of the LoL camera. This accelerated the reproduction of art to a much higher speed and drive art into its manipulative properties.

A painting or image within its original form and state holds certain uniqueness of its history, which Benjamin describes as the ‘aura’ of art. This aura is the only and rare quality that surrounds art with its emotional and historical beliefs. In ‘The Salon of 1859’, Charles Baudelaire describes photography as “… art’s most mortal enemy, …” (Baudelaire, n.d.). Although a photograph captures the moment in more accurate and swift way, is only the reflection of the moment, which can be altered by the means of lens and viewpoint during reproduction. This reproduction lacks the traditional value and historical proof of its existence in its original form. Benjamin states “In even the most perfect reproduction, one thing is lacking: the here and now of the work of art – its unique existence in a particular place” (Benjamin, 1936). A painting when drawn can have a cultural or emotional attachment between the artist and the subject and what the artist feels about it at that time. But on the other hand, the photograph of the same subject can be adjusted and welded for a different audience at different times portraying different meanings, losing its original ‘aura’. “If photography is allowed to complement art in some of its functions, the latter will soon be ousted and ruined by it …” (Baudelaire, n.d.).

The essence of originality in a work of art often lies in its tradition; which is lost with its reproduction. A painting made by an artist in a certain context of tradition, ritual and historical means may be of entirely different context in a reproduced copy present under different circumstances at a different place. It is not only about the art but also the imagery we see or the sounds we hear in a film that create an artificial or contextual perception as per the demands of the producer. In theatres, the audience witnessed the one and true form of a performance and gamer actors performed naturally and in a way that pleased their audience. This could now be edited, manipulated and re-acted upon many times for the best shot under the orders of the directors. The audience now, in this context is your camera man, director and few more people that aid in recording and the real viewers await the manipulated release to be enjoyed privately at home.

The effect of manipulation and mass production on an original artwork or on its ‘aura’ is the major discussion point for Benjamin in his essay. His predictions of this impact state two points – Firstly, the art will lose it’s uniqueness and value under the influence of mass production. Secondly, how this mass production of art can influence and drive the society out of the prowess of capitalism.

References:

• Baudelaire, C. (n.d.). The Salon of 1859. 1st ed.

• Benjamin, W. (1936). The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility [First Version]. 1, p.21.

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