“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” crafted by Walter Benjamin was quite an interesting read. I found it increasingly intriguing. Benjamin discusses, in depth, mechanical reproduction. Benjamin is quick to explain that, “ Man-made artifacts could always be imitated by men. Replicas were made by pupils in practice of their craft, by masters for diffusing their works, and, finally, by third parties in the pursuit of gain. Mechanical Reproduction of work of art, however, represents something new.” Through this, Benjamin made clear the distinction between replica making and mechanical reproduction. From there, the rest of his piece focuses on supporting this distinction through expanding on the history of mechanical reproduction. Benjamin closely discusses authenticity, originality, aura, and uniqueness throughout the history in order to further explain his reasoning and his claims.
The first order of business Benjamin tackles in his piece is the concept of authenticity in which he describes that, “the presence of the original (work of art) is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity.” (218) Benjamin discusses that the authenticity of a work of art lies beyond the technical, beyond the work itself. Reproduction, when honoring the authenticity of the piece, can take the piece far beyond its original context. In this way, the reproduction such as by photography allows for the piece to be more easily accessible such as being able to adjust angles, make enlargements, etc. Though he does not explicitly say so, it is my opinion that Benjamin is hinting to the fact that a work of art’s authenticity alone cannot give it the capabilities that reproduction can.
Benjamin goes on to discuss the aura of a work of art, which he claims, “withers the in age of mechanical reproduction.” (219) He summarizes in connection to the tradition of a work of art by saying, “One might generalize by saying: the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. “ (219) Such processes, mechanical reproduction by way of photography, etc., he says, “lead to tremendous shattering of tradition…” Benjamin connects this idea to the power of film in the contemporary context. Film is not traditional, as he points out, but it is a work of art which I believe he is saying will support the, “renewal of mankind,” (219) at least in the context of re-authenticating the arts.
Lastly, Benjamin discusses uniqueness of a work of art through the lens of tradition. At first this point was hard for me to understand, but after rereading it, I think I got it. What Benjamin is trying to say here on page 220 is that the uniqueness of a work of art is not lost in the changing history. He uses the example of the Venus statue. This work of art had different, unique purpose, impact, etc. during different times in history. This is an interesting thing to consider. This all comes back to the idea that we have discussed basically ever day in class that media does not progress but rather changes to the convenience and need of the time. Looking at art as a form of media, we can see how Benjamin helps us bring this idea full circle.
There were two confusing aspects which I highlighted in my pdf. The first I can see is on page 220. I understand how idea of uniqueness, but I get totally lost when he talks about it in the context of cults. What does he mean? I feel like he does not really explain it much further and largely goes off in a different direction afterwards. Going back to page 218, at the bottom, I am confused what be means by historical testimony here? What does he mean that it is jeopardized? What jeopardizes it?
As far as discussion, I feel like there are many discussion topics in this piece because it is so broad and a little bit complex in his thinking. However, I want us to focus on art as media. He does not really specifically discuss this in the piece, but I am curious to see what others think. Is art a form of media? If so, how is it different than other forms of media? How is it the same? Would our society think art is a form of media?