The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction Analysis

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In Walter Benjamin’s classic essay, The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction , he famously defined aura as that which is lost in mechanical production, a thesis consonant with wide range of discourses defending traditions (of various sorts) from the encroachments of globalization, simulation, and capitalist commodification. He defines the concept of “aura” as that illusory presence which traditionally makes the work of art both unique and authentic. But “the unique value of the ‘authentic’ work of art has its basis in ritual”, a fact that plays on two meanings of “ritual. “

First, the religious sense of the word suggests a superstitious attachment to the truth-value of a particular set of practices. Secondly, the concept of ritualistic behavior has come to mean a repetitive, even compulsive repetition of procedures. When combined, these two meanings tell the story of how a repetitive procedure can come to be associated with truth. Benjamin stressed that in principle, a work of art has always been reproducible. But it loses its aura and lacks one element when it is continuously reproduced. This pertains to its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.

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And the concept of reproducing works of art is highlighted by drastic and several advancements in the technology. Benjamin cited the technology of film and how it evolved from the ancient Greek and how it was able to reach its status today. In his example, he cited that during the ancient Greek, these people knew only two ways of reproducing several works of art. And this was done by either stamping or founding. The only art works which the Greeks could produce in quantity were bronzes, terra cottas, and coins. Because all other art works cannot be mechanically reproduced and were unique.

The technology of engraving and etching were added to the processes cited above as the Middle Ages started. And then, the idea of lithography came into view at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was during this stage when the technology of reproducing art forms reached a very progressive status. As years passed, lithography was exceeded by a new technology: photography. For the first time in history, photography freed the hand of the most important artistic functions because it only dwells upon the eye looking into a lens.

The process of pictorial reproduction was accelerated so enormously that it could keep pace with speech because the eye now perceives more swiftly than the hand can draw. At the speed of an actor’s speech a film operator shooting a scene in the studio captures the images. As lithography virtually implied the newspaper consequently, photography indicated the sound film. At the end of the last century, the technical reproduction of sound was tackled. Up until now, technology has created so many alterations on several works of art.

For example, when photography was invented everybody thought that that will be the death of painters who do portraits. In Balinese art, painters and sculptors believe that they can use computers in creating their art works and do it at present time. The emergence of film put extreme innovations on the technology of photography. And today, there now exists a technology focusing on film commonly known as digital film. Here, film makers do not use video cameras with film anymore but have explored the technology of digital imaging in order to create more advanced and experimental films.

Some painters now use different software in computers to create their artworks instead of the traditional canvas and paint materials. These events only prove that advances in technology have indeed transformed art today. Benjamin’s interest in the new technologies of the 19th and 20th centuries, for such technologies as photography and cinema radically changed the form in which people received information and perceived the world. Consequently, these transformations in art may alter possibilities of community and culture.

According to Benjamin, distraction as provided by art presents a covert control of the extent to which new tasks have become soluble by apperception. Since, moreover, individuals are tempted to avoid such tasks. To mobilize the masses, art will tackle the most difficult and most important ones where it is able. The technology of film does this today. Reception, in a state of distraction, which is increasing noticeably in all fields of art and is symptomatic of profound changes in apperception, finds in the film its true means of exercise.

This mode of reception halfway the film with its shock effect meets. The film makes the cult value recede into the background not only by putting the public in the position of the critic, but also by the fact that at the movies this position requires no attention. The public is an examiner, but an absent-minded one. Thus, advancements in technology and its effects on several works of art change the concept of a community and its culture in the process of alteration.

The concept of community and culture is not exempted from changes in technology induced by mechanical reproduction. As humanity’s entire mode of existence changes (which can be achieved through transformations in technology and art), so does the human sense perception. This then implies a correspondence between the modes of production in the economic base and modes of perception in the cultural superstructure. Mechanical reproduction responds to human beings’ desire for proximity by giving them want they want, rather than overwhelming them with what they rather not have.

For Benjamin, the automatism of the new technologies tends to disrupt cultural stereotypes (as embodied in the physiologies so popular in France during the 1840s) by introducing a plethora of details previously invisible to the human eye. Photography, for instance, ultimately dislodges the aesthetic, idealized human subject in favor of the crime scene, a mosaic of traces to be scanned for evidence. Automatic devices thus come to the aid of a liberal humanism unable to adequately respond to the rise of fascism and the complexities of history. Lastly, Benjamin believes that community and culture will be very much altered by politicizing art (as being done by communism) as stated in the last part of his essay.


Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction. (1936): 46 par. 19 November 2006. ;http://www. marxists. org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/benjamin. htm; “Benjamin, Walter”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 2006. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 19 November 2006. ;http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Walter_Benjamin;. Benjamin, Walter. The European G raduate School Media and Communications. 1997. 19 November 2006. http://www. egs. edu/resources/benjamin. html; Balinese Painting and Technology: Technology vs. /and Art. James Waldron. 1998. 19 November 2006. ;http://www. 6foot6. com/fr/insane/TECH. HTM; Bertsch, Charlie. The Aura and its Simulacral Double: Reconsidering Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. (1996): 52 par. 19 November 2006. <http. www. criticalsense. berkeley. edu/archive/fall1996/fall1996toc. htm> Clinton, Allan. “Mechanical Angel: Carolyn ForchA(c) and the Material Projection of Messianic History”. (1993): 44 par. 19 November 2006. <http://reconstruction. eserver. org/022/forche. htm>

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