Book – The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Writer – Walter Benjamin

Published – 2008

Edition – 4th

Copyright – J.A. Underwood 2008

Publisher – Penguin Books

Location – London

.Works of Art have always been reproducible

.Technological Reproduction of the work of art is something else

.Casting and Embossing was used by the Greeks to technologically reproduce work on a large scale.

.Wood Graving made graphic art reproducible for the first time (before printing did for the written word)

.Copperplate Engraving and Etching was used in the Middle Ages.

.In the early nineteenth century we got Lithography

.Photography completely outstripped photography

.With photography the hand did not have principal artistic responsibility, it was the eye.

.Eyes perceive faster than the hand can draw so the reproduction of pictures became so fast that it could keep up with speech. This meant film operators could capture images as rapidly as the actor speaks and the technological reproduction of sound was tackled in the late nineteenth century.

.No matter how perfect a reproduction is the one thing that stands out is the ‘here and now of the work of art – its unique existence in the place where it is at this moment.’

. With reproductions the original subject keeps full authority when it comes to manual reproduction (manual reproductions usual accused of being forgerys of the original. 

.With Technological reproduction it is not the case. it is considered more ‘autonomous, relative to the original than one made by hand.’

.Photography can bring out aspects of a subject that the human eye could not (adjustable and selecting its viewpoint) or employ techniques to capture images beyond natural optics.

.Technological reproduction can place the orignal in situations beyond the reach of the orignal self.

.It makes it possible for the orignal to come closer to the person taking it in, either through a photograph or even through a gramophone recording. 

. Technological reproduction causes a liquidation of the value of tradition in the cultural heritage.

.’Getting closer to to things in both spatial and human terms is every bit as passionate a concern of todays masses as their tendency to surmount the uniqueness of each circumstances by seeing it in reproduction

.there is no mistaking the difference between the reproduction (such as illustrated papers and weekly news round – ups in readiness) and the picture. Uniqueness and duration as tightly intertwined in the latter as transience and reiterability in the former. Stripping the object of its sheath, shattering the aura, bear witness to the kind of perception where ‘a sense of similarity in the world’ is so highly developed that, through reproduction, it even mines similarity from what only happens once. 

.Uniqueness of a work of art is identical with its embeddedness in the context of tradition.

.The ‘one-of-a-kind’ value of the genuine work of art has its underpinnings in the ritual in which it had it’s original, initial utility value.’

. The reproduced work of art is to an ever-increasing extent the reproduction of a work of art designed for reproducibility. From a photographic plate many prints can be made; the question of the genuine print has no meaning 

Benjamin seemed to be looking at how being able to reproduce work was actually dulling our senses to what we were seeing, ‘finding similarity in something that only happens once’. And how the introduction of photography caused such a massive upheaval which then led to film and the then sound film. All of these inventions altered our opinons of the world. 

.’the more the social significance of an art diminishes, the greater the extent to which the the critical and pleasure seeking stances of the public diverge.

.The conventional is enjoyed without criticism, the truly new is criticized with aversion. 

.In the cinema, the critical and pleasure – seeking stances of the audience coincide. what makes this happen in nowhere more than in cinema do the individual reactions that together make up the mass reaction of the audience prove from the outset to be caused by their immediately imminent massing.

.in the absence of any traditional, ritualistic value, art in the age of mechanical reproduction would inherently be based on the practice of politics.

“sphere of authenticity is outside the technical” so that the original artwork is independent of the copy, yet through the act of reproduction something is taken from the original by changing its context. He also introduces the idea of the “aura” of a work and its absence in a reproduction.

.’Painting is not able to form the object of simultaneous reception by large numbers of people, as architecture has always been, as the epic once was, and as film is today.’

.’In the hands of Dadaists the work of art, from being a sight that seduced the eye or a sound that persuaded the ear, became a bullet.

.The canvas invites the viewer to contemplate; he is able, in front of it, to give himself up to his chain of associations. Watching a film, he cannot do this. Scarcely has he set his eyes on it before it changes. The chain of associations

Despite the effect of a reproduction on the original, Benjamin writes “The uniqueness of a work of art is inseparable from its being imbedded in the fabric of tradition,” which speaks to the separation of the original from the reproduction. He also discusses the ritualisation of reproduction and the emancipation of “the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual.”

The changing values of exhibition are analysed, from historic works which were for private viewing and religious works which were for limited viewing contrasting this with the publicity of modern art which has an emphasis on mass exhibition, coupled with the means to show it to much larger audiences than previously possible.

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