Monday, January 15, 2018

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

In this essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, Walter Benjamin writes about the reproduction of artwork in the modern era. He argues that a work of art has always been reproducible, by giving examples of the Greek who only knew two ways to reproduce art works. However, according to Benjamin, mechanical reproduction of art is something new that is advancing with accelerated intensity. The digital world that we are living in makes this advanced even more intense.

According to Benjamin even the most perfect reproduction of an artwork lacks its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. Yet it is different when it comes to manual reproduction. Firstly, process reproduction is more independent of the original artwork than manual reproduction. He gives the example of a camera that can bring out the aspects of the original that are unattainable to the naked eye.
Secondly, technical reproduction can spread the copy of the original in locations where the original cannot reach. I completely agree with him on this statement. Reproduction allows for a widespread that is accessible for many, but this decreases the value of the original. This is the case in the modern era that we are living.  Reproduction of a work is available at the push of a button.

Benjamin talks about the aura of an artwork, which means the originality and authenticity of a piece of art that has not been reproduced. The unique existence of the original artwork is overwritten by the numerous copies of the original work. In addition, reproduction extends the life of the original work and liberates it from its tradition, uniqueness, heritage and experience.
Benjamin notes that art is received and valued on two different planes. One being on the cult value and the other on the exhibition value of the work. What he means is that the production of art was meant to be served in a cult rather than be viewed by different people. Art was something that created a personal experience, which later became something that is to be shared with.

According to Benjamin the most remarkable feature of the film is that it imitates everyday life, while the actor performs in front of a camera. The performance of the actor is replicated across multiple screens, and this dissolves the aura of the actor’s artistic performance. This is not the case when the actor is performing in front of a live audience. Even though the script stays the same every performance is unique and authentic. In addition, performing in front of a live audience allows the actor to react to the audience, which creates a unique experience.


The concept of the aura is something that is important in this day and age. Nowadays we can reproduce pieces of art in matter of minutes on different screens and devices. In many cases, the difference between an original and a copy is not noticeable. Even though reproduction provides a load of opportunities, it has its ups and downs.