Benjamin (2006). The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

Benjamin, W. (2006). The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. In M. G. Durham & D. M. Kellner (Eds.), Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks (pp. 18–40). Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons.
I …
“For the first time in the process of pictorial reproduction, photography freed the hand of the most important artistic functions which henceforth devolved only upon the eye looking into a lens. Since the eye perceives more swiftly than the hand can draw, the process of pictorial reproduction was accelerated so enormously that it could keep pace with speech.” (p 19-20)
“Around 1900 technical reproduction had reached a standard that not only permitted it to reproduce all transmitted works of art and thus to cause the most profound change in their impact upon the public; it also had captured a place of its own among the artistic processes.” (p 20)
II …
“Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.” (p 20)
“Confronted with its manual reproduction, which was usually branded as a forgery, the original preserved all its authority; not so _vis-à-vis_ technical reproduction. … technical reproduction can put the copy of the original into situations which would be out of reach for the original itself.” (p 20)
“And what is really jeopardized when the historical testimony is affected is the authority of the object.” (p 21)
“By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence.” (p 21)
III …
“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 is accomplished, is determined not only by nature but by historical circumstances as well.” (p 21)
“… the desire of contemporary masses to bring things ‘closer’ spatially and humanly, which is just as ardent as their bent toward overcoming the uniqueness of every reality by accepting its reproduction. … Unmistakably, reproduction as offered by picture magazines and news- reels differs from the image seen by the unarmed eye. … The adjustment of reality to the masses and of the masses to reality is a process of unlimited scope, as much for thinking as for perception.” (p 22)
IV …
“In other words, the unique value of the “authentic” work of art has its basis in ritual, the location of its original use value.” (p 22)
“An analysis of art in the age of mechanical reproduction must do justice to these relationships, for they lead us to an all-important insight: for the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual. … 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.” (p 23)
V …
“Artistic production begins with ceremonial objects destined to serve in a cult. One may assume that what mattered was their existence, not their being on view. … He did expose it to his fellow men, but in the main it was meant for the spirits. Today the cult value would seem to demand that the work of art remain hidden.” (p 23)
“This is comparable to the situation of the work of art in prehistoric times when, by the absolute emphasis on its cult value, it was, first and foremost, an instrument of magic. Only later did it come to be recognized as a work of art. In the same way today, by the absolute emphasis on its exhibition value the work of art becomes a creation with entirely new functions, among which the one we are conscious of, the artistic function, later may be recognized as incidental. This much is certain: today photography and the film are the most serviceable exemplifications of this new function.” (p 23-24)
VI …
“It is no accident that the portrait was the focal point of early photography. The cult of remembrance of loved ones, absent or dead, offers a last refuge for the cult value of the picture. … To have pinpointed this new stage constitutes the incomparable significance of Atget, who, around 1900, took photographs of deserted Paris streets. … With Atget, photographs become standard evidence for historical occurrences, and acquire a hidden political significance.” (p 24)
VII …
VIII …
“The artistic performance of a stage actor is definitely presented to the public by the actor in person; that of the screen actor, however, is presented by a camera, with a twofold consequence. The camera that presents the performance of the film actor to the public need not respect the performance as an integral whole.” (p 25)
“Hence, the performance of the actor is subjected to a series of optical tests. … Also, the film actor lacks the opportunity of the stage actor to adjust to the audience during his performance, since he does not present his performance to the audience in person. This permits the audience to take the position of a critic, without experiencing any personal contact with the actor. The audience’s identification with the actor is really an identification with the camera.” (p 25-26)
IX …
X …
“For centuries a small number of writers were confronted by many thousands of readers. This changed toward the end of the last century. With the increasing extension of the press, which kept placing new political, religious, scientific, professional, and local organs before the readers, an increasing number of readers became writers — at first, occasional ones. It began with the daily press opening to its readers space for ‘letters to the editor.’ And today there is hardly a gainfully employed European who could not, in principle, find an opportunity to publish somewhere or other comments on his work, grievances, documentary reports, or that sort of thing. Thus, the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character.” (p 27-28)
“Some of the players whom we meet in Russian films are not actors in our sense but people who portray _themselves_ – and primarily in their own work process. In Western Europe the capitalistic exploitation of the film denies consideration to modern man’s legitimate claim to being reproduced.” (p 28)
XI …
“In the theater one is well aware of the place from which the play cannot immediately be detected as illusionary. There is no such place for the movie scene that is being shot. … The equipment-free aspect of reality here has become the height of artifice; the sight of immediate reality has become an orchid in the land of technology.” (p 28)
“The painter maintains in his work a natural distance from reality, the cameraman penetrates deeply into its web.21 There is a tremendous difference between the pictures they obtain. That of the painter is a total one, that of the cameraman consists of multiple fragments which are assembled under a new law.” (p 29)
XII …
“Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art. The reactionary attitude toward a Picasso painting changes into the progressive reaction toward a Chaplin movie. … The greater the decrease in the social significance of an art form, the sharper the distinction between criticism and enjoyment by the public. The conventional is uncritically enjoyed, and the truly new is criticized with aversion.” (p 29)
XIII …
“In comparison with the stage scene, the filmed behavior item lends itself more readily to analysis because it can be isolated more easily.” (p 30)
“With the close-up, space expands; with slow motion, movement is extended. The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible, though unclear: it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject. … Evidently a different nature opens itself to the camera than opens to the naked eye — if only because an unconsciously penetrated space is substituted for a space consciously explored by man. … the camera intervenes with the resources of its lowerings and liftings, its interruptions and isolations, its extensions and accelerations, its enlargements and reductions.” (p 31)
XIV …
XV …
Epilogue …
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