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The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin

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Jennifer Lee Hallsey

on 1 October 2014

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Transcript of The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin

image by Alberto Korda,
Alfredo Rostgaard (1969), Rage Against the Machine (1993), blek le rat (2003), t-shirt, t-shirt, t-shirt worn by jay-z, cli-che t-shirt
The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
Walter Benjamin
Noël Anderson and Jennifer Lee Hallsey
J. Field/786 Visual Culture/FA 2014

Barbara Kruger
Walker Evans;
After Walker Evans
, Sherrie Levine (1981);
After Sherrie Levine
, Michael Mandiberg (2001)
"In principle a work of art has always been reproducible.
Man-made artifacts could always be imitated by men."
"Historically, it [mechanical reproduction] advanced intermittently and in leaps at long intervals, but with accelerated intensity."
progress has been exponential.
"In principle a work of art has always been reproducible.
Man-made artifacts could always be imitated by men."
"Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element:
its presence in time and
, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be."
"The technique of
reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition.
By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own particular situation,
it reactivates the object reproduced
The Art-Culture system. James Clifford (1988).
Benjamin's 'authentic'

of the
cannot be reproduced

-each object has its
own authenticity (even if a copy)
Today's 'authentic'

-authenticity is a
, not
necessarily about uniqueness or

- for example: a 'classic type'

"The uniqueness of a work of art is inseparable from its being imbedded in the fabric of tradition ...
We know that the earliest art works originated in the service of a ritual
— first the magical, then the religious kind."
"For the first time in world history,
mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual.
To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility. From a photographic negative, for example, one can
make any number of prints; to ask for the “authentic” print makes no sense. But the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed.
Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice—politics.
Modernity demanded photography
Henry Thomas Aiken,
The Belvoir Hunt: Full Cry
Eadweard Muybridge,
Horse in Motion

c. 1870-1880s
Photography emerged along with science, the penal system, medicine, the media, politics, and "other institutions of everyday life that made visual reproducibility one of the
imperatives of modernity
." (
Practices of Looking
"We cannot claim to have really seen anything before having photographed it." -Emile Zola
dissemination of an
Che Guevara
"The greatly increased mass of participants has produced a change in the mode of participation."
"A man who concentrates before a work of art is absorbed by it... in contrast, the distracted mass absorbs the work of art."
Princess Alexandra’s "knock off" of Queen Victoria's necklace and Gijs Bakker wearable

‏The decay of aura is evidence of change in social perception as we move away from handmade goods toward producing items and art that can be reproduced, mass distributed, and digitized
decay and aura

‏Audience wearing special glasses watch a 3D "stereoscopic film" at the Telekinema on the South Bank in London during the Festival of Britain 1951
René Magritte, 1928–29, Oil on Canvas
Cult Value
‏-Early mass production started with producing religious objects that were intended to be used in cult worship. The importance or value of these objects lies in their relevance to a religious tenant, which is called its cult value.
Objects with the highest cult value are inaccessible to the public, often hidden or stored in the catacombs of religious venues.

Exhibition Value
‏-Some art objects that have value in in their ability to draw people to view them exhibited. The level of draw determines the objects Exhibition value

‏The first medium to raise rate of exhibition value above that of cult value because it is reproducible, exhibitable, and has the capacity for historical aura in printed photographs

‏Eugene Atget 1904
Viewer Experience and Mass Production
‏A reproduction has a different experiential impact on a viewer than an object which they understand to be authentic
thank you.
mode of participation
‏George Melies 1902
Full transcript