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Summary walter benjamin s essay art age mechanical reprodu

The essay is credited with developing an insightful interpretation of the role technological reproduction plays in shaping aesthetic experience; more specifically, Benjamin catalogues the significant effects of film and photography on the decline of autonomous aesthetic experience.

This publication appeared in French translation under the direction of Raymond Aron in volume 5, no. Benjamin subsequently rewrote the essay and after editorial work by Theodore and Margarethe Adorno it was posthumously published in its commonly recognized form in his Schriften of 1955 Wolin 183-4.

In order to catalogue and ultimately subvert classical and Romantic aesthetic ideals, Benjamin describes the process by which modern technological reproduction strips these institutions and their iconic artworks of their aesthetic authority. Benjamin claims that in times past the role of art has been to provide a magical foundation for the cult.

A statue or idol conveyed a sense of detached authority, or summary walter benjamin s essay art age mechanical reprodu magical power, which inhered in and only in that particular historical artifact. The reproduction in mass of such an item would have been unthinkable because it was its unique singularity that produced the sacrality of the ritual. It also includes the legitimacy accorded to the object by a lengthy historical existence.

In order to clarify the idea he compares it to the experience of natural phenomenon: The statue is not like any other object produced or used within a society; it appears free from the taint of ideological control or human interference, as though its power, like that of the mountain, issues independently from within.

The coming of modernity and the disappearance of the cult only partially signal the end of auratic art. Much of nineteenth-century art and aesthetics thus represent a conscious attempt to defend the special status of the artwork from the banality of bourgeois capitalism. Benjamin acknowledges the reality of artistic reproduction throughout history, although he suggests that mechanical reproduction introduced an entirely new and revolutionary change in the experience of the artwork 218.

This process both affects and is the effect of changing social conditions in which all previously unique and sacred institutions have become equal 223. The general willingness to accept a reproduction in place of the original also signifies an unwillingness to participate in the ritualistic aesthetics and politics of earlier times.

For example, a photograph or film of a Catholic cathedral denudes its unique aura, transforming the role of participant into that of a spectator or possibly a detached commentator. Film Although Benjamin discusses photography briefly, his argument focuses primarily on the revolutionary potential of film as a mode of mechanical reproduction. The film actor, unlike stage performers, does not face or respond to an audience.

  • Green and Ingrida Ligers;
  • Instead it substitutes aesthetic expression into the world of politics, thus supposedly allowing the masses the right to self-expression;
  • Benjamin argues that the work of art transforms over time and that historians must recognize this transformation.

The net effect of these innovations is to place the viewer in the impersonal position of critic—something prior cultic experiences of art would never have allowed 229.

The prevalence of film, as well as other mechanical reproductions, also creates a culture of minor experts ready to judge art rather than loose themselves in participatory ritual 231. Benjamin also notes that film relies on a series of cut and spliced images that must be assembled to form an aesthetic whole.

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

As a form of extreme capitalism, fascism ultimately does not alter the structure of property relationships. Instead it substitutes aesthetic expression into the world of politics, thus supposedly allowing the masses the right to self-expression. The result is a reinstatement of the aura and cultic values into political life, a process which inevitably ends in war 241-2.

  • Mechanical reproduction changed the way art worked;
  • But, scholars must be careful in their application of Benjamin to their projects;
  • For example, a photograph or film of a Catholic cathedral denudes its unique aura, transforming the role of participant into that of a spectator or possibly a detached commentator;
  • Benjamin situates his analysis of the work of art in Marxist terms;
  • In the 1930s, people favored exhibition value;
  • In the 1930s, people favored exhibition value.

In a chilling final paragraph Benjamin suggests that self-alienation within fascism has become so extreme that the destruction of humanity becomes an aesthetic experience. Adorno similarly criticized the essay by pointing to the manner in which modern modes of reproduction produce less rather than more critical citizens.

He also suggested that in certain instances the autonomous work of art excludes the aura and produces greater self-rationalization Wolin 193-4.

Generally speaking, the essay continues to play a significant role in understanding how technology contributes to a de-aestheticization of the artwork in modernity.

Jamie L. Brummitt, PhD

Works Cited Benjamin, Walter. Green and Ingrida Ligers. An Aesthetic of Redemption.