Art in the age of reproduction: Walter Benjamin

When Marcel Duchamp submitted a urinal entitles “Fountain” to an art show in 1917 there was a big debate whether this readymade is art. Finally, the people in power (the board members of the “Society of Independent Artists”) decided to hide it from a public display in the exhibition. The notion of a urinal being displayed as an original piece of art in a gallery exhibition could not resonate with the deeply rooted tradition of the “auroral” interaction between (wo)man and art.

In 1935 Walter Benjamin once again challenged the question of  what is art, and how do major historical events, such as the capacity to reproduce art effect the interaction between (wo)man and the artistic expression.  In his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1935) Benjamin argues that art’s traditional “aura” had been vanished with the availability of reproduction, changing the relationship between the creator, the work itself and the viewer, essentially robbing society from the “magical” and “divine” meaning, which derives from the interacting between the viewer and the original piece of art.

Last night we discussed Benjamin’s essay in class, touching on some thought provoking metaphors, such as the public (including the artist, (re)producer and viewer) being trapped in between the 24 frames per second of the film (Moretti in class, 2010), which made me wonder that if this were the case 65 years ago, trapped with friends and colleagues in a dark room being captivated by a new medium, “absent minded examiner”, how extensively are we trapped now, embedding mobile technologies in our everyday move, allowing it to be the new fabric of our culture? How absent minded are we in 2010?

I left class wondering where is the optimism in his essay, what is the potentiality of the new media’s effect on society as interpreted by Benjamin?

“The distracted person, too, can form habits. More, the ability to master certain tasks in a state of distraction proves that their solution has become a matter of habit. Distraction as provided by art presents a covert control of the extent to which new tasks have become soluble by appreciation” (pg. 240).


February 24, 2010. Columbia University Doctorate.


  1. replied:

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    • pazit replied:

      Sure, you can reference it, with pleasure. ~Pazit

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