Back in 1977, Richard Kazis published "Benjamin's Age of Mechanical Reproduction," an essay that effectively blends Benjamin's biography and overall areas of intellectual interest to sharpen the focus of the discussion of Benjamin's influential essay.

I've long admired Penguin's inventive efforts as a publisher of books. In recent years, they've taken a good look at book design and cover art, which is why I'm thrilled to have just discovered how they've released the Benjamin essay as part of their third set of Great Ideas books with a cover that strikes me as highly appropriate and interestingly self-critical. Take a look and click to enlarge the image.

WEBWORK by Reese Soco

In his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, Walter Benjamin states that art must be placed in a historical context, in order to be defined and for its value to be dictated. In today’s time, the Internet age, art is again being redefined, thanks to the videoblogging and photosharing brought about by Youtube and Flickr. Artworks are now more accessible because of these websites and technology makes the reproduction, and even the dissemination, of art easier. The online art gallery of Cebu Artists Inc. is an example of how art is now made accessible to the masses. The site Deviantart, which exhibits photos, poetry and digital art, also enables the artist to post their works. This accessibility defeats the prevalent notion of art as a luxury.

The article entitled “From Flâneur to Web Surfer: Videoblogging, Photo Sharing and Walter Benjamin @ the Web 2.0” by Simon Lindgren, is taken from Issue 15 of the Transformations Journal. This issue is actually devoted to Walter Benjamin, exploring the many applications of his different works. Here, we are made aware of Benjamin’s other writings besides that which we discussed in class.

Although Lindgren’s article only takes a few points from “The Work of Art in the age of Mechanical Reproduction”, it still substantiates Benjamin’s ideas by drawing on another one of Benjamin’s work, namely, “The Arcades Project”. Lindgren’s article discusses how these sites, if used to display art, (art here defined by Lindgren as the forms of visual expression communicated through the Internet) can be a source of endless duplication, similar to how Benjamin argues that technology enables the massification of art. As a result, art is no longer historically situated, given that one consequence which Lindgren presents of utilizing the Internet is the dissolution of time and space. A result of this is the loss of authority of the original, and how the aura of art is being killed. The decay of the aura of art is because of “the desire of contemporary masses to bring things “closer” spatially and humanly, which is just as ardent as their bent towards overcoming the uniqueness of every reality by accepting its reproduction.”

Still, these sites enable the participation of the “masses” or a greater number of people in making art. Thus, an “increasing number of readers” are becoming “writers” as “the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character”. Youtube, for instance, allows a comedian or a singer/songwriter not only to showcase their work but also to gain fame, and maybe jumpstart a career as well. Boyce Avenue, a band which performed in Manila during Valentine's weekend, can credit their success to Youtube. In a way, even Charice Pempengco's career was helped by the site, because through it, Ellen Degeneres was able to watch her, which then led to her big break in the United States. This can be positive in that the elitist nature of art is removed.

However, this accessibility can also be exploitative. BBC, for instance, reports that Viacom has sued Youtube. The giant site has been reaping the profits from Viacom's shows. This presents how, through the massification brought about by technology, the original work is not as important because of the presence of the reproduction. People are no longer watching shows from the original channels which release them because they are present anyway in sites such as Youtube.

This example is a good reflection of Benjamin’s ideas in that it contextualizes his thought to be more applicable to us today. Being from the Internet age, we are able to better understand his ideas if seen in terms of sites we are familiar with such as Flickr and Youtube. This example also goes to show how Benjamin’s ideas are still applicable now despite being published 74 years ago.

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