We are asked to read an essay by Walter Benjamin, originally published in 1936 and still as relevant today.
How does he state his case fort the removal of art’s elite nature?
Walter states that the work of art is depreciated by its replication and as the image of the cathedral can be brought into the living room, or the choral music be listened to away from the place it was recorded, it has less value and is accessible to many more. This demystification through replication had for Walter a huge effect on the value of the work. He couldn’t have fore-sawn the increases in technology that mean our sound systems could replicate the recorded acoustics of a space without the crackle of the phonograph or that ultra HD would bring in sweeping views of a cathedral that you couldn’t reach in a pre drone- pre floodlit cathedral era.
He attributed art as having either cult value or exhibition value, cult value meaning the work wasn’t for public consumption and was for ritualistic purposes although this had different meanings to the different viewers of the work throughout the ages, the statues of the greek gods not having the same significance to the Christian victorians etc.
However he points out that the oft repeated photo won’t have the same authenticity as the original due to it having relevance in its time and a history of care and ownership that has accompanied it to this point. I can’t help feeling that his attitude is a touch aloof though, almost as if the reduced value of the reproduced is about right for the masses.
What do you make of his ideas of the ‘aura’ of the work?
The Aura is linked to the objects point in history, the work, ie a point in time where you see the sun through the autumn coloured leaves, is un reproducible as the moment will pass, the things that make your viewing of the object the thing you remember, will not happen in those circumstances again, in this Walter is correct it is water under the bridge, he also links an aura to the history an object has accrued, the dust and patina of age, which is lacking in an easily reproduced thing, however I’m not convinced it takes away from the objects authenticity as a thing potentially wanted by someone, it lessens its value because its distanced from the origin and probably the person who originally came up with it, but we have already distanced ourselves by not creating it as a one off painting anyway. It is now a more accessible thing because its more affordable, like prints of a painting, who are we to judge if a thing has such a reduced value though if its reproduction is of a good enough quality to mimic the original satisfactorily in someones home.
Does the improvement in the methods of reproduction, colour printing, digital imaging and television, strengthen or weaken his case?
Walters case has an element of truth regarding value, however, multiple copies have a value too, listening rights on radio means a composer will gain every time a piece of music is used, so potentially over a lifetime the same amount as the cost of a private performance even if the experience is a slightly de-valued version without the emotion of the experience of being at the concert. However, as an entry point to engender interest in an artist, the reproduced is accessible and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Does the failure of the soviet experiment alter the validity or otherwise of this case?
Communism as a method of dissemination of assets fails because someone always wants more than the next person. Walter’s suggestion on the devaluing of the easily reproduced does not take into account the media and the strength of imagery in holding people in a set pattern of behaviour or the fact that easy access to world news gives them the means to see another future contrary to the person in charge at the time, this is a power that is a value of its own that Walter could not have foreseen. In this context, the value of images changes somewhat.
On John Bergers first essay in ‘Ways of seeing’
Do you find his case convincing?
Yes, value and meaning change immensly as the original work is seen out of context and out of time, Bergers argument for Aura is more powerful than Walters because his examples are strong. His case being that the item has many meanings, seen by many people in many locations and that value is created by an elite educated few who both review the art and purchase it, also that in reviewing within the reviewers agenda the work cannot hope to represent in writing what its initial point was and that the writing can and does sway how we think and feel towards it.
Do you think that a work of art removed from its original site grows or dimineshes in meaning?
I think its meaning changes, the point in time it was created for has gone, potentially the people with those beliefs and lives are gone so we cannot access the art for the same reasons or purposes, however, we can make an informed decision to look at the art out of situ. We will of course always be viewing it through the eyes of the curator, they will have decided the setting, the objects to the left and the right, the cost of entry and the arts perceived value, but we can get something out of it.
Does familiarity breed contempt?
I think it can breed contempt for the people who are outside the scene and that is why the language around art is so tough to understand as its a bit far up its own bottom. I have a deep distrust for a work of art that takes 500 words next to it to explain…
Has Benjamins Aura been replaced by the postcard?
The postcard is a memory of a point in time where you saw something you could not afford to have in your life. It represents a part of the Aura of the original thing, it disseminates the aura further around the globe, it propagates it, but it isn’t the aura on its own. Also, a postcard is as inadequate at showing a sculpture as a moving image, whilst its showing a point in time that is felt to be as perfect a rendition as can be achieved, the external senses and dimensions are lacking.
Benjamin, W(1936) The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction In: Visual culture reader, Jessica Evans, Stuart Hall. London. Visual culture reader. pp. 72-79
Berger, J(1972)Ways of seeing, Penguin Books LTD, London