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Worksheet on ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ by Walter Benjamin

Worksheet InstructionAnswer the following questions; discuss in two sentences each.

A worksheet for my Media Theory class for the lecture on Ideology as Instrumental Rationality and the Walter Benjamin essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”

1.      Why does aura wither in the age of mechanical reproduction? (p. 21)

Aura withers in the age of mechanical reproduction because when an original gets reproduced, “the copies become detached to the domain of tradition.” By making many reproductions of the original, the process leads to “substituting a plurality of copies for a unique existence,” promoting the further decay of the aura of the original work in the process.

2.      Why is film the most powerful agent in shattering tradition and bringing about change in the work of art? (pp. 21-22)

Film is the most powerful agent in shattering tradition and bringing about change in the work of art primarily because of its being an art form created through the process of reproducing moving images, a system that brings things “closer” spatially and humanly to the contemporary masses in a manner unavailable to humans prior to its birth. As said in the reading, “its positive form stands side by side its destructive, cathartic aspect” that “liquidates the traditional value of the cultural heritage.”

3.      What does this mean? “Mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual… it begins to be based on another practice – politics.” (p. 23)

It is said that the earliest art works originated in the service of ritual including the magical and the religious kind, so an “art work’s aura is never entirely separated from its ritual function.” With the rise of mechanical reproduction, art using this technology conforms with the requirements of reproducibility, so in the case of a photograph’s negative, it makes no sense to ask for an “authentic” print anymore, because instead of being based on ritual, the work is now based on another practice called politics.

4.      What do Atget photographs have? Cult value or exhibition value? Explain. (p. 24)

The Atget photographs have exhibition value, which displaces cult value that is said to originate from the service of ritual. While human countenance paves way to save some elements of cult value, this is not available in the Atget photographs, which were produced like scenes of crime, showing deserted Paris streets without faces of people seen anywhere.

5.      “Mechanical reproduction  of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art.”  Name three reactions of the masses in the present. (p. 29)

Since the “intimate fusion of visual and emotional enjoyment with the orientation of the expert” coincides with the masses’ changing reaction toward the mechanical reproduction of art, it is said in the reading that “the greater the decrease in the social significance of an art form, the sharper the distinction between criticism and enjoyment by the public.” This point is very much reflected in the reactions of the masses in these present technological and artistic developments in the mechanical reproduction of art using the film medium: mainstream films vs. independent films; 2D films vs. 3D films; and the most timely one to date, theatrical screening of films (communal viewing) vs. online streaming of films (personal viewing).

Work Cited:

Benjamin, W., & Underwood, J. A. (2012). The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. In Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks. (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 37-49.

Rianne Hill Soriano
Rianne is a director, writer, educator, and consultant in film and commercial productions. From mainstream essentials to independent flair, she knows the drill in making entertaining and well-meaning productions. She can lead a pack passionate about extreme action and technological edge; she can breathe an endearing and sentimental style for a team with a sweet disposition.

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