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The Work of Art in the Age of
“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical
Reproduction, has become a standard reference
for any attempts to analyze and understand the
interrelation of political, technological and artistic
development under capitalism. His insights are
especially useful for the political analysis of film."
-from Jump Cut, Richard Kazis
• The transformation that a piece of art takes over the years is
crucial to the ever-changing 'outcome' of the piece of art.
• This transformation can only be analyzed after the
transformation, not in the era when the art was created.
"The concepts which are introduced in the theory of art
[...] are useful for the formulation of revolutionary
demands in the politics of art"
- W. Benjamin
I. Past Reproducibility of Art
• Works of art have always been reproducible.
1.Greeks: founding and stamping
• Woodcut (etching and engraving)
• Lithography (tracing a design onto stone)
• Photography (first type of pictorial reproduction)
• By 1900, "technical reproduction had reached a standard
that not only permitted it to reproduce all transmitted works
of art [...] it also had captured a place of its own among the
II. Flaws in Reproduction
• Even the best reproductions of art lack the presence in time
(history of its existence) and space (viewing art in its
authentic form) of the artwork.
• The presence of the original artwork is KEY.
o Manual reproduction - there are always discrepancies
from the original due to error.
o Technical reproduction - the copy looks identical to the
original and it also allows for many copies to be created
and put into many situations (in a museum vs in a house)
Reproduction eats away at the sense of authenticity to the
point that the existence of an Original will disappear.
III. Effects of Mass Production
• Perceptions change based on natural and historical circumstances
• The act of reproducing a work of art diminishes the aura/value
• Bringing something closer eliminates the beauty it has from a
• Seeing a work of art reproduced in a magazine or a newsreel differs
from seeing the original work of art in person.
• Not only will our perception of creative works change, but our
thoughts and considerations will change as well based on our
ability to mass produce
"If we can see the reproduction,
why should we go see the original?"
IV. l'art pour l'art (Art for Art)
• Earliest art originated from ritual
o ex. Statue of Venus was venerated by
Greeks and was also an idol in the Middle
o Art's function was ritualistic.
• During Renaissance, ritual function declined
while the emergence of photography and
socialism lead to the theology of art - l'art
"For the first time in world history, mechanical
reproduction emancipates the work of art from
its parasitical dependence on ritual"
V. Cult Value vs. Exhibition Value
• the meaning the art serves
for the person who creates
• the meaning the art takes
for the public eye when
the art is labeled as a
"piece of art"
• photography and film,
meant to be in the public
eye, are indications of art's
VI. Triumph of Exhibition Value...?
• As cult value diminishes, a historical
exhibition value takes over.
• Photographs become historical records,
even though the artist took them as
works of art.
o ex. Atget's photographs of deserted
Paris streets. He took them like they
were a crime scene but they will be
viewed as a visual comparison
between past and present Paris.
VII. Film as an Art Form
• Film was originally questioned as an art form, just like
o We must understand that photography and film have
"transformed the entire nature of art"
• Gance: film is like heiroglyphics
o we haven't begun to fully understand it as a form of expression
• Severin-Mars: Only the most high-minded persons, in the most
perfect and mysterious moments of their lives, should be allowed to
enter its ambience.”
• Werfel: “The film has not yet realized its true meaning, its real
possibilities ... these consist in its unique faculty to express by
natural means and with incomparable persuasiveness all that is
fairylike, marvelous, supernatural.”
VIII. Theater vs. Film
The audience sees what they
choose to focus on.
There is interaction between the
actor and the audience.
The audience sees what the
No interaction between the actor
and the audience.
IX. Stage acting vs. Film acting
• aura of the actor and the role he plays connects with the
• actor identifies himself with the character/role.
• Aura of role is gone, left with just the actor and his persona
as an actor.
o see a movie because you want to see that actor more than
you want to know the plot
• Film is composed of many separate, edited performances
that are altered and redone by technology.
Film acting's foundation relies on mechanical reproduction
X. Rise of an Industry
• All forms of media start out with many viewers and few
• As the industry develops, more people become
ex. Newspaper, readers are now able to be published in the
paper easier thanks to the editorial section. (You can also
publish things on the web through blogs, comments, etc).
ex. Film, there were only one or two actors, but now there are
hundreds of extras in each movie, and can make your own
movie and post it online (youtube).
This type of participation is essential to Mechanical Art.
XI. The Art of Film
• Film-making is incredibly technical
but comes together to depict reality
more closely than theater.
• On stage performance vs. On screen performance
o film experience is superficial - edited, shot, real life
o Painter and Magician are like Theater actors.
They take things of real life and not
o Cameraman and Surgeons are like
the Film maker - they are artificial and
made to look real but are not real.
XII. Viewer's Opinions
o People act/express their views
differently when they are in large
groups rather than when they are
o Individuals dislike being told what
to think, but they like to come up
with a collective view of art with
o Film success is because
individuals are tricked into
having a view on a movie based
on the director's view.
o Paintings fail because they do
not provide a uniform
XIII. Film and Psychoanalysis
• Benjamin supported Freud and Psychoanalysis.
• He believed that using film by pausing/slowing down to view
details could be very influential in psychoanalysis.
o Freudian slips and subtle movements could be analyzed
o Argued that film was a better medium for analysis than
stage performances, art or books, because it captured so
many details that could be examined.
The camera introduces us to unconscious optics as does
psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses.
XIV. Film vs Dadaism
• Primary role of art has always been the
creation of demand that is fulfilled by
other things later.
• Dadaism created demand that was
fulfilled by film.
• Dadaism = word salads, obscenities,
commonplace items all thrown
together on a canvas
• Both Dadaism and Films have the
same shocking effect on a spectator.
XV. Art for the Masses
• Masses have changed the way art is viewed, seeking out
distraction even though "art demands concentration from
• This has led to:
o the survival of architecture over time
o absent-minded critic of films, requiring
no intelligence or concentration at all.
• We have turned into the "masses,"
and that we are somewhat kept in
place by art.
• However, art has become a
political form of control (in
regards to Fascism)
• The ease of reproducibility and
new mechanical factor of art takes
away from the aura, therefore
• Film has not been efficiently
adapted yet - use it as political tool
leads to war.