I was reading "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" by Walter Benjamin (written in 1935) and it had me thinking about the concepts I'm developing for my artwork. The article can be accessed here, and below are some quotes that I found most interesting.
He's mostly focused on photography and film in this article. I think many of his ideas are interesting points especially when considering camera phones and social media. We can take photos whenever we want, choose our favorite shot, edit it and share it instantly.
"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."
"Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be." When he says reproduction he means a photo of an original work. The context of the work influences how it's perceived and the more the image is seen through a reproduction the less authentic it is. He's comparing in person viewing with viewing a reproduction.
"Every day the urge grows stronger to get hold of an object at very close range by way of its likeness, its reproduction." Speaking of passive consumption.
"The uniqueness of a work of art is inseparable from its being imbedded in the fabric of tradition. This tradition itself is thoroughly alive and extremely changeable." Artwork has what he calls an aura (a sense of history or life about them). An original work has an aura regardless of it's context of time or place. The reading and meaning might change but the appreciation for it being fabricated and unique stays true. The original piece will continue to have an aura.
"Clearly, this is at bottom the same ancient lament that the masses seek distraction whereas art demands concentration from the spectator."
He got me thinking about the original artwork and sharing of works online. These points are interesting arguments but I wish he were able to comment on the rise of social media today, where everyone is a creator and curator of imagery. Additionally, I wish he were alive and able to comment on art forms like performance art, installation art, and happenings where the documentation IS the remaining object. Imagining what his perspective might be, made reading this article even more interesting.