Because either Glasstire doesn’t like my comment, or I don’t understand how to leave one, I am publishing them both here.
Crossing Benjamin’s Border: Rereading “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”
While it’s refreshing to see a name such as Benjamin’s cited in contemporary art criticism, I disagree with several of the issues raised here. For all practical purposes, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” is a dated piece of writing. Benjamin was responding to what he saw as the loss of the aura of the original work of art and to a concern that only state institutions could mass-produce imagery (in particular, film). Initially, this belief in the singular true original contains the same discriminatory ideology as the fascism he ran from. There is only one true artwork; there exists only one true people. Second, beyond the long-standing history reproductions have with artworks (ranging back to Raimondi and Raphael, if not further), I would cite Malraux and argue that while the reproduction alters the original, this is not as detrimental as Benjamin would claim. Instead, the reproduction of artworks allow for the decentralization and democratization of art. It circumvents the gallery walls, disseminates the work to a larger audience, and compels comparisons not yet considered. From these, new ideas and dialogues emerge, and the works are re-coded and given new meanings. And, this is the real authenticity of art: the interpretation offered up by the viewer. Pertaining to this viewer, Benjamin’s worry regards the passive one. He is afraid of a mindless crowd sedated in a darkened movie theater. But modern technology does not dehumanize us, and we need to stop promoting some Heideggerian return to an authentic mode of being in nature and away from technology (remembering that Heidegger himself was a Nazi). We need to stop confusing the modern screen with the one Benjamin was so afraid of. They are very different Modern mechanical reproduction is not just guarded by the state. The viewer has the agency to duplicate and circulate imagery as well. Further, this imagery is often about the viewer. I both view and produce my Facebook page. The ubiquitous of the screen in today’s culture does not jeopardize the viewer, her or his agency and/or selfhood, but reinforces all three. Today, the screen begs to be touched, manipulated, played with, and customized. It needs the viewer/producer. This is not to say that we should not be careful with the screen and over duplication. Instead, we must learn to live with it as it lives with us and becomes our environment even more.
Posted 16th June 2015 by Arnold, H.C.