Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Response to Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art

Walter Benjamin's essay, The Work of Art, identifies and dissects the historical shift of the value of a work of art.

The most predominant of the issues the author presents is how modern advances in the world of art have "ruined" art's more romantic intentions. The author establishes in his essay that traditional art carries with it an "aura." The aura of an artwork, according to Benjamin, is specifically created from the aspects of art that can be observed in person- and not recorded and viewed retroactively. Additionally, the aura of an artwork is observed in the creation of the work and the materials used to compose it- another aspect absent from more modern forms of artwork such as film and photography.

The way the author so liberally applies this term when talking about the unique nature of traditional art gives away a good deal of bias. I feel like Benjamin is using it as a more sophisticated way of calling a work special. This is where my issue with his take lies: a general favoritism for the traditional has always struck me as a type of stubbornness rather than a result of "fine taste." This may be because I'm a young millennial and my experiences with art are entirely lodged within these modern advances, but I personally don't feel a lack in "aura" in modern works. I don't feel any differently about a piece of work observed in a museum versus seeing it online. (Granted, I don't have a lot of experience with museum exhibitions, and I hardly await the presentation of a coveted work in a gallery versus a print.)  I'm sure the lack of atmosphere and submersion is a good deal of what Benjamin is referring to, but I don't think this impacts a large part of a work's meaning in the way he says it does.

One point of his I resonate more with is how modern art seems to be steering into an increasingly commercial direction. The fact that film and photography have become so popular doesn't speak to a general desire to consume art- rather, people crave entertainment, and the world of art is reduced to simply meeting that demand. I recognize this even within my own process- that art I create must be periodical and please an audience, rather than exist on its own merit. In this regard, I understand Benjamin's longing for an adherence to the occult. However, the evolving landscape of art as a commercial entity has made it so that every modern (professional) artist, I feel, has to place priority over one in order to be a success. The anecdote about the actor who's persona is preferred over his personality strikes a chord, in that this is every artist's problem.

However, the evolution of art as something more commercial doesn't inherently make art achieved through modern invention devoid of  "aura." There are definitely movies out now that I feel are only "cash cows," and while to a lesser extent, photography suffers from this same commercialism with the invention of smart phones and social media. But the romance of it lies in how these works show now more than ever how people model their lives around these shallow works. In a sense, it could be said that this stops being art and becomes something much more trivial- and it has- but I don't think the author should make the folly of thinking these works don't provide valid social interactions. The widespread nature and ease of reproduction of this art makes it less personal, but also a far better a litmus test of social atmosphere.

The attitude towards traditional art is far too holy to last in the age of information. I welcome the widespread nature of printable pieces and the like because it's lack of authority makes art more approachable, and therefore, easier to dissect and build a relationship with.

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