Friday, August 3, 2012
The Spectator Society... Driven to Distraction
In his essay, “The Work of Art In The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, Walter Benjamin discusses a shift in perception and its affects in the wake of the advent of film and photography in the twentieth century. He writes of the sense changes within humanity’s entire mode of existence; the way we look and see the visual work of art has is different now and its consequences remain to be determined. How does human sense perception related to history? Is it a universal perspective that is being critiqued here? Can there be a universal perspective in the first place?
Benjamin here attempts to mark something specific about the modern age; of the effects of modernity on the work of art in particular. Film and photography point to this movement. Benjamin writes of the loss of the aura through the mechanical reproduction of art itself. The aura for Benjamin represents the originality and authenticity of a work of art that has not been reproduced. A painting as an aura while a photograph does not; the photograph is an image of an image while the painting remains utterly original.
The sense of the aura is lost on film and the reproducible image itself demonstrates a historical shift that we have to take account of even if when we don’t necessarily notice it. What does it mean when the aura is lost? How does it function and how does it come about? Benjamin writes of the loss of the aura as a loss of a singular authority within the work of art itself. But what comes through in this new space left by the death to the aura? How does the mechanically reproduced work of art manage to make up for this void?
As Benjamin continues, a tension between new modes of perception and the aura arise. The removal of authority within the original work of art infers a loss of authority, however, in regards to mass consumption, this liberation is not necessarily contingent. The cameraman, for example, intervenes with what we see in a way which a painting can never do. It directs the eye towards a specific place and a specific story; at the same time it is radical and revolutionary it is also totalitarian. It guides us to a particular side of a story and leaves other parts out. It dulls our perception towards the work of art and introduces distraction as a mode of reception. The location of anything we might call the aura has to be moved into a mythological space; into the cult of genius. This cult of genius relates back to the cultish characteristic of the aura itself; in its absence there is a grabbling for a replacement. What does it mean to place an aura on “someone” or “something”? Is it even necessary to reclaim the aura in the first place? The mystical cult of the original in broken with the loss of the aura, and now every one can go to a gallery, a museum, the theater or the cinema. A whole new appreciation of art is introduced while at the same time, a whole new mode of deception and distraction also enters.