Sunday, February 3, 2013

Highlights from Benjamin (or things I at least understood!)

With my grandfather and mother both professional photographers and my two grandmothers both artists, I found Walter Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" very intriguing as he dove into the techniques, adaptation and replication process for art. A lot of what he says makes complete sense when you break it down, I've just never taken the time to think about it until now. (Thank you grad class). I know we're going to talk about what mechanical and digital reproduction does to aura but here a few other highlights that stood out to me:
  • The whole concept of "space and time" within art, photography and film. "Since the eye perceives more swiftly than the hand can draw, the process of pictorial reproduction was accelerated so enormously that it could keep pace with speech." (Page 2) Time is key to keep in mind when looking at art, photography, film and it's authenticity. It takes the piece to a whole new level if you can envision what the artist was surrounded by and looking at in the moment of creation, some hundreds of years ago.  The meaning may be difference today than in it's original time. The Mona Lisa today is still breath taking but to image what Leonardo deVinci was feeling at the moment of creation in the early 1500's brings it to a whole new level. In reference to space, close-ups actually expands space and we now have the ability to slow time and extend movement which "reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject" (Page 9). 
  • The difference between an artistic performance on a stage verses in a film. We've discussed numerous authors and their theories of theater and the effects that it has on the audience. Here, Benjamin makes a great case stating that "there is indeed no greater contrast than that of the stage play to a work of art that is completely subject to mechanical reproduction." (Page 6) From the moment a play starts until it finishes, the actors must remain in character which means his/her aura cannot be separated for the spectators from that of that actor. It is stated that film, on the other hand, is denied this opportunity due to the fact it is created by multiple performances and pieced together with machines. There is no audience to perform to or feed off of and the actor must wait months before hearing critiques. Hence, I would say the stage is a purer form of art with a better aura among the actors and audience. 
  • On page 8, I also liked the comparison of the magician and surgeon to the painter and cameraman. Another way to show that the cameraman is not as authentic as the painter in regards to space and reproduction. 
  • I had to laugh on page 7 when Bejmain was the speaking of the dissemination of one writer to many with the invention of the press and stated, "with the increasing extension of the press... an increasing number of readers became writers -- at first, occasional one." as a century later we're now faced with the same challenge with the internet. Amazing how his work can be relevant decades later. 
  • Lastly, for fun I always Google names within the articles we read or works that are referred to. Here, Eugene Atget's photography is credited for becoming some of the earliest standard evidence for historical occurances. Below is his self portrait and a few of his photos:

To me what makes the various forms of art so profound is that one can replication and reproduce it but there is nothing that compares to the original piece of work. I can appreciate replications so that I can afford to purchase them but there is something so special about being in Paris and standing in front of the Mona Lisa or sitting in the audience of a play verse watching it at home on the couch. Technology has made reproduction easier and more cost efficient but that doesn't always mean it's better. I choose the aura of the original. 

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