Summary: Walter Benjamin discusses in his article “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” the power of the ability to mass produce pieces of literature and works of art and that impact on said medium. Because of the ability to produce these pieces in a huge manner, their spread becomes quite large compared to previous time periods, and that may lead these works to be less impactful on their own. However, he argues that there is one very important thing lacking in these reproductions — the original time and effort made in the original piece. This alone helps to make art relevant even when mass produced.

Important Aspects:

  1. Mechanical reproduction of works of art is fairly new and the impact still remains to be seen on the art world. Despite the printing press being almost 200 years old at the time of Benjamin’s work, globalization had still not taken off until after World War I in a big way. Benjamin’s article was published in 1936, meaning globalization had effectively become the norm across the world, so these mass produced works of art were being seen globally as opposed to restricted to a small region.
  2. The importance of a piece of work, despite being mass produced, remains the same due to the original intention and effort required to design this piece. Despite the mass production process being much simpler than manual reproduction, the original content still remains relevant due to the time and place it was produced as well as the original intention, which is something mass production is unable to replicate.
  3. Art itself changes due to progressions made in production ability of humanity. Benjamin discusses several time periods near the end of his article in an effort to display the various times works of art have been made more and more widespread. In fact, these differences in production actually lead to the development of new forms of work, as seen in the fifth century when human population and spread allowed for the culmination of Roman literature and art style across Europe. Something similar could be seen as a result of mass production globally, meaning the importance of an original work may be amplified by it being globally accessible.

Questions I Have:

  1. Why is the importance of work called into question when it is globally produced? With the exception of books, it should be fairly apparent if a work is an original or not, so the original intention and importance of a work of art shouldn’t be based on its globalization.
  2. How do politics become part of this mass reproduction due to photography and industrialization? Benjamin mentions this at the end of his piece, but this idea raises more questions than just thoughts. I would love to see an extension of his work if it is available, as I would love to see the political side of mass reproduction outside of the obvious propaganda availability.

Question for the Class:

How do you feel seeing an original work of art compared to seeing a photograph of the same work? Do you believe this similarity or difference can be applied to many different types of works?