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3D Animation Essay, Research Paper
The Aura of the Original & the Role of the Reproduction
The idea that a work of art is unique, that the original has an “aura” about it, is an idea brought up by Walter Benjamin. He explains his position that the difference between the original work of art and a reproduction is that the reproductions are just that, they are copies. He brings up that the original must have some aesthetic quality that prompts a person to attempt to reproduce the original, so that it takes a completely separate yet similar physical form. The issue of reproduction was not nearly as important an issue until technology had advanced enough to facilitate mass reproduction of works of art. The mechanization of the 20th Century allowed the mass population to be exposed to exponentially more works of art. Benjamin explains this kind of exposure is detrimental because they are reproductions.
Fine Art has had, in the past, a spiritual, ritualistic quality to it. This may have to do with the history of art and its role in Catholicism as its main commissioner until about the Neo-classical period in art. The subjects of paintings especially were symbols of Christianity. With the progression of subject matter away from deity from the Neo-classical period on, and the ushering in of the age of mechanical reproduction, we see originals losing their uniqueness, the “aura” that sets the original apart from the copies. Benjamin explains that the relationship of art to the viewer becomes less and less associated with the original, and more so with the copies, prints, photographs, and film. There is an increasing interest on the contemporary scene regarding the electric realm of reproduction, where the copy is reduced to a binary code of zeroes and ones, digitizing the original, creating a copy that requires a machine to actually translate this code into the image of the art. The ease of this process and the wide spread use of the machinery to translate these codes could be a logical extension of Benjamin’s view; that reproduction yields a lack of respect, perhaps even a complete indifference to the value of the original. The idea that the tools for reproduction are increasingly accessible to the public may also lead to reproduction being non-discriminate, and applying to anything that can be digitized. “Art made on a computer theoretically exists nowhere as an original, other than as a sequence of digits. To see it (even for the creator of it) means to always be seeing a reproduction. And then, if the artist puts his or her work on the internet, anyone can – instantaneously, with no speed at all – ‘acquire’ a copy of this artwork. Their reproduction will then be indistinguishable from what the artist was viewing on his or her monitor when the work was first produced.”
Benjamin’s idea that film is the most effective in dismantling the “aura” of art may have been premature. Today, we see digital forms of media as having the potential to facilitate the reproduction as well as the distribution of these reproduced materials and works of art. He explains how the masses attend movies to come into contact with cultural norms. Applying his ideas regarding film to new media is effective in understanding the magnitude and importance of his argument. Benjamin compares the painter and the cameraman to a magician and a surgeon in an analogy to enforce his disdain for film.
Magician and surgeon compare to painter and cameraman. The painter maintains in his work a natural distance from reality, the cameraman penetrates deeply into its web. 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. Thus, for contemporary man the representation of reality by the film is incomparably more significant than that of the painter, since it offers, precisely because of the thoroughgoing permeation of reality with mechanical equipment, an aspect of reality which is free of all equipment. And that is what one is entitled to ask from a work of art.
The internet is accessed much more frequently, with a viewpoint exponentially wider and with a more intimate exploration of cultural circumstances, than the narrow viewpoint expressed by filmmakers. With the expansion of the internet and the hardware required to access it, applying Benjamin’s analogy may make us consider this new digital age of reproduction a type of orthoscopic surgeon; one that allows the penetration and collapse of distance to be dramatically increased, with the evidence of this penetration nothing more than a small scar that is forgotten quickly, and an effect of the experience one that leaves an indelible impression on the user. In all cases the viewer has an altered viewpoint that permits him or her to take the role of a critic, and they are similarly disassociated from the performance.
Getting back to the idea of art having a spiritual mystical quality that Benjamin touches on, nowadays it is anticipated by the artist that his or her work will be reproduced. Often art may be created solely for the anticipation of reproduction, whether to fulfill a personal, political, or perhaps a monetary agenda rather than a work’s primary source of interest being its ritualistic, mystical properties. These alternate agendas are formulated with the masses in mind, and as such target the collective and not the individual. Later in the article Benjamin discusses how the age of mechanical reproduction could lead to war because technology is resisted by people, to a certain extent, as a natural extension of themselves. The artificiality of reproductions could facilitate a divorcement of the way in which the spiritual and mystical “aura” aspects of an original piece of art is perceived. He believes that perhaps the problem is not in the mechanical reproduction itself, but the way in which society has neglected to understand the changes inherent in the implication of new technology into everyday life, and how it applies to all aspects of social structure.
Regarding Evonne Levy’s “The Miraculous Mechanical Reproduction in the Age of the Digital Reproducibility” a great portion of Medieval art work was commissioned by the Catholic church, therefore a great portion of the Medieval artwork has Christian themes, especially Christian subject matter, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, angels, John the Baptist, etcetera. Walter Benjamin’s idea of original work having an “aura” about it, and that as an original, will lead viewers to find the greatest sense of significance and meaning seems to support that a relationship exists between the paintings subject matter and the effective “aura” contained by the work. Levy describes in her article the situation of a spectacle witnessed in a church involving a weeping painting that was a reproduction. What seems to be most interesting is that the only “aura” this weeping painting has is the one given it by the viewers there in the congregation, and as such has taken on a spiritual, ritualistic role to fulfill the spiritual needs of the congregation. Brought up in the article was the point that although the claim was made concerning this miracle tearing of a painting, was that it occurred on a reproduction. The distinction must be made and unfortunately for those that place an “aura” on reproductions, they may not realize that an actual original exists apart from the reproduction they apply the “aura” to. This can explain the miraculous event at the church, and how the greatest meaning and significance derived from a work of art doesn’t necessarily have to come from the original.
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