Reflection of Walter Benjamin’s Essay, A Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 1936
1. What is the “Aura” of a work of art?
Walter Benjamin describes that a ‘”aura” of a work of art is awe effect the viewer has becoming linked to the image they see in a spiritual way. The more unique and one of a kind it is the more, the more aura that object has. The awe-factor is also added by the fact that this work of art has more of a historical or cultural relevance to the viewer.
After learning about the importance of an artwork, when I see it in person, I find that I become amazed of that painting because of its importance to art history and culture. But without the context behind it, I do not have a cerebral, personal, or emotional connection to that work of art.
2. In Benjamin’s mind, what effects did mechanical reproduction, such as film and the camera/photography, have on the viewer’s perception of art?
During the age of mechanical production and assembly lines, the craft of creating is no longer accredited to the human hand. Benjamin believes that the camera and the development of photography destroyed the aura moment with the singular viewer. This is because so many copies of an original negative can be distributed to the masses of society so it is no longer unique to that place and time. The museum or institution is no longer ‘special’ in that fact. All have access to capture and create with a camera. Benjamin states, “Magician and surgeon compare to painter and cameraman. The painter maintains in his work a natural distance from reality, the cameraman penetrates deeply into its web. 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.” (Pg 12)
3. What is meant by the passage: “for the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual.”
Ritual in modern art is no longer important to its creation and viewing. There is no longer a set list to follow with so many variations available. The machine is creating objects to complete copies, with less of a percentage for mistakes. Much less in comparison to the human hand. If artists have completed the perfection they were striving for than the ritual is no longer a necessary practice. A new way of observation and thinking is apart of the destruction of ritual. It can be reproduced without authenticity and begin to be structured around political motivations.
4. What mechanically or otherwise reproductive processes are changing the face of art today?
The dawn of technology has completed changed the way we live, think, and create. So many different fabrication applications are available to artists, who no longer can truly classify themselves as a painter, or a sculpture, etc. We have created ourselves as a jack-of-all-trades because the mechanics of it are so accessible to the every man.
To give an example, I am currently taking a class called Crafting Virtual Space. We are using computer software and literally printing out images from the virtual world into a 3-D printer. There is also a laser cutter that cuts out images, patterns, and anything your imagination can come up with exact detail.
Art today is limitless and I think it’s going to continue this way. The more unique, outlandish, and creative artwork is, it equals a formula to be more interesting. Artists like Jenny Holzer is protecting 10 feet tall words onto buildings. Jeff Koons has created a 3 story tall puppy from flowers that blooms and interact with the world around it. Video artist Bill Viola creates digital videos of humans interacting with the elements. Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang is hanging Volkswagens from ceilings and using fireworks to create burnt images. I wish Walter Benjamin were alive today to see what has manifested in the world since his departure. I think he would be pleasantly surprised.
5. Question for you
How do you think Benjamin would react to what the Internet is and the vast amount of images, videos, and writings available to anyone with access? Is the idea of aura already a thing of the past?
New Vocabulary Word
Proletarianization is a concept in Marxism that refers to the social process whereby people move from being either an employer, or self-employed, to being employed as wage labor by an employer apart of social mobility