The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction


Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Illuminations, pp. 217 – 254 (37 pp.)

  • They (concepts on art and production)  are, on the other hand, useful for the formulation of revolutionary demands in the politics of art. p218
  • Since the eye perceives more swiftly then the hand can draw, the process of pictorial reproduction was accelerated so it normal sleep that it could keep pace with speech. p219
  • Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, it’s unique essence at the place where it happens to be. Page 220
  • The presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity. Page 220
  • Technical reproduction can put the copy of the original into situations which would be out of reach for the original itself. Above all, it enables the original to meet the beholder halfway, it in the form of a photograph or phonographic record. p221
  • What my surmise the illuminated element in the term “aura” and go on to say: that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art. Page 221
  • During long periods of history, the mode of human sense perception changes with humanity’s entire mode of existence. The manner in which human sense perception is organized, the medium in which it was accomplished, is determined not only by nature but by historical circumstances as well. Page 222
  • Namely, the desire of contemporary masses to bring things “closer” spatially and humanly, which is just as ardent as their bent toward overcoming that uniqueness of every reality by excepting it’s reproduction. Every day that urged grows stronger to get hold of an object very close range by way of it’s like this, it’s reproduction. … To pry an object from its shell, to destroy it’s for, is the mark of a perception who’s “sense of the universal equality of things” has increased to such a degree that it extracts it even from a unique object by means of reproduction. The adjustment of reality to the masses and the of the masses to reality is a process of a limited scope, as much for thinking as for perception. Page 223
  • The unique value of the “authentic” work of art has its basis in ritual, the location of its original use value. Page 224
  • But the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice – politics. Page 224
  • Works of art are received and valued on different planes. To polar types stand out: with one, the accent is on the cult value; with the other, on the exhibition value of the work. Page 2 to 4
  • The cult of remembrance of loved ones, absent or dead, offers a last refuge for the cult value of the picture. For the last time the aura emanates from the early photographs in the fleeting expression of a human face.… But as man withdraws from the photographic image, the exhibition value for the first time shows at superiority to the ritual values. Page 226
  • When the age of mechanical reproduction separated art from its basis in the cult, the semblance of its autonomy disappeared forever. Page 226