Thursday, September 8, 2016

Response to "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" by Walter Benjamin | ART 2020

I realize this post is late, but I wanted to get my thoughts on the readings on my blog anyway. I also want to say that I am English Major, which means I read and reflect on a fair amount of difficult reading assignments, but I found this one to be especially in the article. 

In the article, the author is talking about a shift from art being experienced in person to a viewer being removed to the point of experiencing art through a screen. This article was written in 1936 when films were really starting to explode in popularity. If Mr. Benjamin were writing this today, I can only imagine what his reaction would be to the even further removal we experience from reality through our phones, televisions, computers, and tablets. Even when presented with an actual, original object or work of nature or piece of art, most people will take a picture instead of studying what is in front of them. We are now comfortable with and are used to experiencing things in a removed context. 

Walter Benjamin talked about how in the past, being in the presence of a piece of art had a certain sort of magic or energy to it. A lot of artwork and sculptures in the past were made to be religious pieces, so people saw them as powerful and had reverence towards them. Also, their uniqueness made them valuable and awe-inspiring. Even today, to see the original Mona Lisa or Venus de Milo is an awe-inspiring experience because you are in the presence of a one-of-a-kind, original piece of art. However, through the removal of the spectator through a screen and the mass production of digital mediums, that uniqueness may have been lost. It is certainly not the same experience to see a print of the Mona Lisa as it is to see the actual painting. 

This is due to something called "aura", Benjamin says. The aura is something which cannot be mass produced or communicated through a lens. One of my favorite examples of the aura is found in Section III when the author talked about seeing a mountain and feeling the aura of the mountain. Last year, I had the opportunity to go to Europe for three months and while I was there, I did a fair amount of touring. I took a few album's worth of pictures, though as I would upload them to my Facebook I realized how little they actually communicated of what I was seeing. As my trip continued, I took less and less photos (which I can't say that I am happy about, now), but it was largely due to my increasing awareness that I would not be able to capture the feeling--the aura--that escapes undetected by pixels. 

All that being said, I understand and agree with a lot of the points that Benjamin made, but I also feel there is a case which could be made for technology being an element of art and not just a destructive force in art. Technology certainly gets in the way of experiencing the beauty and reality of a lot of things for a lot of people, but at the same time I believe there is an art to moviemaking, photography, graphic design... It is just important to not live solely through them, but rather to make sure a healthy balance between experiencing art in real life rather than through a screen is maintained.