Wednesday, February 6, 2008

All about the Benjamin

In “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin wrote about how the technical advancements in the methods to produce and reproduce art changed the very nature in how we view the art. Benjamin argued that the “aura” of a piece of art—its authentic essence connecting it to time, place, and history—is demolished through the ease and acceptance of its reproduction. (While this may be oversimplifying things, let me put forth an example: after seeing countless reproductions of the painting, just what would most of us gain by viewing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre?) Further, Benjamin suggests that as these reproductions meets wider audiences, their “meanings” become more varied and fragmented, very dependent upon the viewers/readers/listeners of the texts:

By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own particular situation, it reactivates the object reproduced.


And while he no doubt foresaw the acceleration of this phenomenon, Benjamin, one can assume, had no way of knowing that access we would have to instantaneous hyper-reproductions of sounds, images, and text—that is to say, the internet (and before it, to a lesser extent, television). The internet takes this reproduction further, as the responder can co-opt, manipulate and repurpose a text in the blink of an eye.

All of which brings me to the next task in crafting blogs in our composition class: the introduction of images to our weekly posts.

I think it’s safe to say that most of the images we view in blogs have been plucked from elsewhere on the internet. While original images would be safest, it is likely that many of the images you put on your blogs will come from elsewhere online. I suggest that you strive for proper attribution of original artwork (in many cases this is handled in the form of a link to the site the picture is from); however, there certainly is a lot of free-form image grabbing out there. Many images are scans from other sources (as I suspect is the case for the picture of the Missing Link I put in my post last week), which probably means that all sorts of copyright infringement is happening, a property endemic to the web. The manipulation of images in photo editing programs like Photoshop, like the image of my friend Tim (where I put his face into an Uncle Sam poster), complicates the issue further, and shows the continual destruction of the “aura” of a work of art that Benjamin wrote about.

You'll have to trust me; Tim found it funny.

To be on the safe side, we should add images carefully: we should use free stock image sites or include our own whenever possible and give proper attribution when we use someone else’s image. But for Benjamin’s (or maybe not) sake, include images. In this oftentimes too passive culture, what’s so wrong with a little "object reactivation," after all?

1 comment:

Walter said...

Dear Sir or Madam,
I extend my gratitude for your referencing and "hyper linking" of my piece.
If you desire, you can pay me a visit at any hour of the eve or morn at my internet hearth.

Regards,
W.B.