domingo, 21 de septiembre de 2008

On Walter Benjamin: art or politics?

As a journalism student, two years ago I had to read (and reread) the text of Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction". At that time I didn't know anything about this author's work, not even which was its positioning within the (newly known for me) "Frankfurt School". But even so, I think I was able to take a few conclusions about the text, which were then reinforced with further explanations and clarifications of the professor in class. Now, I think I had to change my approach to the text: if then I read the text from a -essentialy- political perspective, now I feel I must respond more to the aesthetic issue.

Let's break this down: the essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1935) reflects the new forms of aesthetic experience and its potential for the dominant political role of the artwork. The author uses the concept of “aura” as a central category: this notion (used for the first time by the same author in his work “The Origin of German Tragic Drama," 1928) to reveal any work of art as a relationship of "closeness" and "remote". An “auratic” work is one that moves away from the viewer, one that is wrapped in a sacred aura that gives it the consideration of "piece of art."

Well, the author explains how the Aura of the artwork is removed by the mechanical reproduction process. In a way, the mechanical reproduction neutralizes the distance between the work and the viewer. With the “reproduction tecnicques”, the workart is a manipulable object with which the viewer is able to establish a more active relationship, as the experience is not confined to the pure observation. And that happens, overall, with the advent of photography, and later film. If “auratic art” showed a “cult value” of the workart, there is an “exhibition value”. The mechanical reproduction eliminates, thus, that imaginary distance and bring the workart as closer to the crowd as about the crowd to the workart.

I admit I understood only very little of the text the first time I read it. Moreover, I'd dare to say I understood exactly the opposite to the intent of the author: I thought Benjamin defended the “aura”, and believed mechanical reproduction was seen by the author as a “bad thing”, a device to make the art “disappear”. But it is just the opposite: he is against the aura, because he sees it as a mechanism that keeps the art close to the masses of people, to the ordinary people. The reproduction technique gives everyone the chance to contemplate a Picasso, or the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, without having to go to the Louvre and breathe "his aura." I guess my error was (besides the complexity of the text) to read the text from a purely aesthetic point of view, not in a politics way. The aesthetic changes that are taking place because of the reproducibility technique were not seen by Walter Benjamin (it must be remembered that he was a marxist) more than a chance to achieve other changes (more important to him), such as political and social changes.

I suppose we will have to really wonder wether the aura has disappeared into the works of art, or if it has become (against Benjamin's premonition) a mass phenomenon. In museums It is a very common experience to find huge crowds at the museums, devotioning the works of art in an almost fetishist way. After all, we all prefer to go to Paris to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, rather than to have the Da Vinci's painting as a screen on the computer.

1 comentario: dijo...

Congratulations for your new blog, Jorkjeimer!

I love the topic you've chosen, and I promise to become a faithful follower.

About this first post on Benjamin... even if it's true that his being a Marxist gives us an insight about his feelings about the disappearence of the "aura", I'm not so sure he's firmly convinced it's a good thing. When I read the essay I had the feeling that he was being deliberatly ambiguous about it...