Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” is written in an unfamiliar manner that left me totally confused. After reading the essay, I almost flew out the door to find the nearest bookstore to pick up a Cliff’s Notes to help me better understand the reading. Benjamin’s thought process is being constantly interrupted with ambiguous Roman numerals which stray from idea to idea. Instead of the paper flowing naturally from thought to thought the Roman numerals act as stopping points between each subject he talks about.
The paper seems to be more of a documentation of quotes on art reproduction than an essay on art reproduction. His use of footnotes is especially intriguing because they are used for more than just documenting quotes or sections of the text. The footnotes on some pages sometimes seem to contain more information than the actual body of the text. It’s as if Benjamin states an idea or thought and then explains it further in the footnote rather than in following sentences.
In the seventh Roman numeral Benjamin said that “Earlier much futile thought had been devoted to the question of whether photography is an art” (Benjamin 85). Benjamin is unclear in his decision of whether photography is an art form or not. He just sees the ease of reproducibility as being a downside to the art form. The fact of the matter is that photography is just as much of an art form as painting and sculpture. A photographer chooses to capture a split second of time in any million of possible moments while also taking into account the angle, lighting, lens, color, and subject.
Art is very controversial when it comes down to what is and isn”t art. The particular way I clean a fish with precision and skill using a knife to get every portion of meat can be an art. Who’s to say I”m wrong. I am tired of reading essays about art criticism (Berger, Benjamin) that focus on what art isn”t rather than what it is. Benjamin states “The feeling of strangeness that overcomes the actor before the camera, as Pirandello describes it, is basically of the same kind of estrangement felt before one’s own image in the mirror.
But now the reflected image has become separable, transportable, and where is it transported? Before the public” (Benjamin 88). The type of strangeness described by seeing yourself in the mirror or on film is separated by the fact that thousands of people will see you when on film, while in the mirror your aura is there only for you to see. The footnote following this quote states “The change noted here in the method of exhibition caused by mechanical reproduction applies to politics as well.
Since the innovations of camera and recording equipment make it possible for the orator to become audible and visible to an unlimited number of persons, the presentation of the man of politics before camera and recording equipment becomes paramount” (Benjamin 88). This footnote compares a politician using film and TV to an actor acting in front of a camera. This method allows the politician to appear larger than life because he is seen by so many people at the same time. The politicians” image has been transported before the public.