From XPUB & Lens-Based wiki

In the first chapter, Walter Benjamin retraces the different means of copying through ages, retracing the origins of mechanical reproduction. Emphasis is put on lithography, as it enabled graphic reproduction to keep pace with printing. A few decades later came the photography, which freed the human hand from its function to create the pictural representation and production of the copies. At the beginning of the XXth century, technical reproduction has reached a standard that enabled the copying of all transmitted works of art. As it obtained its very own place amongst the artistic processes, mechanical reproduction caused the most profound change in their impact on the audience. The reproduction of a work of art lacks of a presence in space and time. The presence of an original is a prerequisite to concept of authenticity. Authenticity constitutes the essence of what's transmissible on a time basis, for instance a starting point, a substantive duration and a testimony of the history it has experienced. As a multiple copies substituted to a unique existence, the object meets the beholder in varied situations reactivating it. This process is connected with the contemporary mass movements. The element that was eliminated by the process of copying can be subsumed in the term “aura”. With a shift from uniqueness and cult value to multiplicity of instances highly distributed, the function of the work of art has been affected. The artistic production's basis fall into politics.

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In principle a work of Art has always been reproducible.
Before, the imitations were made by men. Replicas of Masters paintings made by pupils = a mean of diffusion for the works.
Mechanical reproduction means something new.
The Greeks had 2 procedures : founding and stamping. (Only bronze, terra cotas and coins could be duplicated). All other technics produced unique objects and non reproducible.
Woodcut enabled graphic art to be reproducible for the first time, long before script became reproducible by print. Fact that printing, the mechanical reproduction of writing, brought enormous changes in literature.Printing is merely a special case within the phenomenon of mechanical reproduction. During the middle ages : engraving and etching added to woodcut. Lithography appeared at the beginning of the XIXth century. With lithography technique of reproduction reached a new stage. Much more direct process, distinguished by tracing of the design on a stone rather than engraving or what so ever.
→ Permitted graphic art (for the first time) to put its products on the market in big quantity and ad hitherto, also in changing forms. Began to keep pace with printing and could illustrate everyday life. (more rapid pace) Only a few decades after lithography came Photography. For the 1st time in the process of pictorial reproduction, the hand was freed from the most important artistic function – it then devolved only upon looking into a lens. A film operator could capture images at the speed of an action, impossible as long as the hand had to draw. As illustrated newspaper was implied by lithography, filming announced the technical reproduction of sound.

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Reproduction of sound appeared at the end of XIXth century.
~= 1900, technical reproduction had reached a standard that :
a. permitted to reproduce all transmitted works of art
b. caused the most profound change in their impact upon the public
c. had captued a place of its own among the artistic processes
What is the nature of the repercussions that the “reproduction of works of art and art of film” have had on art in its traditional form?
Analysing their consequences will make the standard appear more clearly.


The reproduction of a work of art lacks one thing :
→ Presence in time and space (unique existence at the place where it happens to be)
The history the work of art, through its existence, used to be determined by its uniqueness. (implying the importance of alteration of its physical condition, changes of ownership)
It is possible to find out which instance is the original one through chemical analysis and the ownership can be traced as well.
Presence of original = a prerequisite to concept of authenticity. It can be established with different types of procedure (in the case of a Middle age manuscript or a bronze). The sphere of authenticity is outside technical and non technical reproductibility. The original preserves its authority upon the non technical reproduction. Different with technical reproduction :
process is more independent then with manual reproduction (can produce images without having to rely on what's perceptible by the naked eye) the copy of the original can be put into situations out of reach for the original itself enables the original to meet the beholder halfway whatever form it takes.
Product of the mechanical reproduction can be brought in situations that won't touch the actual work of art but the quality of its presence will be depreciated. Case of the art object, a most sensitive nucleus, called authenticity, is interfered with areas where no natural objects are vulnerable. Authenticity = essence of what's transmissible on a time basis (beginning – substantive duration – testimony to history it has experienced)
Historical testimony relying on authenticity, so this testimony is, as well, affected by reproduction (as the substantive duration ceased to matter). Historical testimony is affected by authority of the testifying object.
One might say : “technique of reproduction detaches the produced object from the domain of tradition”.
Multiple copies substituted to a unique existence. The object meets the beholder in varied situations reactivating it. Processes connected with the contemporary mass movements. Film is the most powerful agent. Most positive form of social significance has to be thought through catharsis and destruction of traditional value of heritage.

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Eliminated element can be subsumed in the term “aura”.


Mode of human sense perception depends of humanity's mode of existence → can be identified in long periods of history. Organisation of sense of perception + medium used depends on nature + historical cicumstances
Great shifts of population of the Vth century → late Roman art industry + Vienna Genesis
As a consequence, new art (!= antiquity + new kinds of perception)
Concept of the aura is defined as the latter of the unique phenomenon of a distance. - Example of the shadows of montains or branch on oneself as the experience of their aura – Use of this image to understand the socal bases of the aura's decay.
Two circumstances (relating to the increasing significances of the masses) :
-desire of masses to bring things “closer” (spatially and humanly)
-bent towards overcoming uniqueness of every reality by accepting its reproduction.

Reproduction has offered magazines and newsreels. != image seen by unarmed eye.
Uniqueness and permanence linked in first case while transitoriness and reproducibility lays in the second. To destroy an object's aura = mark of a perception whose “sense of the universal equality of things” increased to a certain point.
Adjustment of reality to masses and masses to reality → process of unlimited scope (for thinking and perception)

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Uniqueness of work of art is related to inclusion within the fabric of tradition. This tradition is changeable and alive. An ancient statue (Venus as an example) has stood in different contexts from the veneration of the Greeks to the one of being an iminous idol in the Middle Age. In both cases people were confrontated with its uniqueness, its aura.
Integration of the work of art within tradition → expressed as a cult. Earliest works of art served rituals (magical then religious). Existence of work of art with reference to its aura relates to this ritual function. Or, the unique value of authenticity find its origin in the ritual, the location of the original use value. Ritual basis, even if it is remote, can be still recognized as secularized ritual (even in the “most profane” forms of cult of beauty).
Secular cult of beauty (rooted in Renaissance) showed the ritualistic basis in its decline.
Art sensed the approaching crisis (which became obvious a century later) with the advent of photography, simultaneously with the rise of socialism. At the time the reaction was the doctrine of “l'art pour l'art” , with a theology of Art in itself. Rise of “negative theology” in the form of the “pure art” → denied social function of art and categorisation by subject. (Mallarme was the first to take this position)
Analysis of work of art in the age of Mechanical reproduction has to take those relationships into account. For the first time in world history, with mechanical reproduction, the work of art can be emancipated from its parasital dependance on ritual. Work of art reproduced can become the work of art designed for its technical reproductibility. Asking for the original of a photography print would make no sense.
Criterion of authenticity ceased being applied anymore to artistic production
→ total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it is now based on politics.