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Response to Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” – Elizabeth Karinn

October 22, 2009

Early in this week I walked into a conversation in my building where people questioned the value of a piece of artwork if it can be hanging as a poster in college dorms around the world.  It was rather fortuitous that we were asked to read this essay since I had already been thinking about the question of reproduction.  I believe that art should be accessible.  That can mean that a college student without the funds to own impressive originals is still able to cover his or her walls with posters that show famous artwork from Monet or Picasso.  Though there is obviously an entirely different experience that goes along with viewing an original piece of artwork, reproductions break down the exclusivity that seems inherent in deeming originals the only acceptable works of art.  Accessibility, in my mind, also relates to what Charis said about formal art classes.  It may be partially due to my own bias, having very little experience with art classes before this one, but when art becomes overly academic and overly formal it becomes less enjoyable.  I think that art is often produced so that it can be seen and interpreted  by as many people as possible, so placing too much value on the originality of a piece works against that intention.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Sophia Krugman permalink
    October 22, 2009 6:39 am

    For some reason I wasn’t able to make a new post (I’ve been trying for the past hour or so), so I figured I’d at least leave my response in a comment somewhere…

    Sophia Krugman – Response to “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”

    Part of me has to disagree with Walter Benjamin to some extent when he says that “that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art” by “detach[ing]…the object from the domain of tradition.” In speaking of this artistic “aura,” Benjamin is claiming that the identity of a work of art is essentially defined by its background and tradition, and that a reproduction – no matter how faithful to the original – can never achieve the same “unique existence” or value. One could also say that, just as an original work of art is defined by its history, a reproduction must be defined by its lack of one. Or perhaps it must be defined by its mechanical creator, by the grand collection of human intelligence and labor that culminated in the creation of the machine that reproduced it itself—a somewhat confusing idea, but one that I think captures the mutability of mass art and its so-called aura in this “mechanical age”.
    One could even argue that the reproducibility of a work of art enhances its meaning by giving it multiple identities in countless distinct contexts: reproductions provide a thousand different possibilities of creative inspiration, a million different kinds of presence, all adding up to a sum much greater than the impact of the original alone. Were it not for the billions of reproductions of the Mona Lisa spread around the globe, the original paltry-sized little painting would not represent capital-a Art in such an enduring fashion: seeing the original in plain view is said to be underwhelming, its aura perhaps even degraded by its physical insignificance. The image, however – the reproduction, that is – is larger than life (and not just literally).
    I cannot argue with Benjamin, however, when it comes to his commentary on the twisting of art to serve political aims. We have all seen or read about too much brainwashing through artistic media to contest that point, I believe.

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