Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
Walter Benjamin states that the transformation of the superstructure has caused in all areas of culture a change in conditions of production and then goes on to present a number of concepts that if introduced into the theory of art would be useful for the formation of revolutionary demands in the politics of art.
In principle a work of art has always been reproducible, as replicas could be made. Still, mechanical reproduction represents something new, as firstly the reproduction process is more independent from the original than manual reproduction. Secondly, technical reproduction can put a copy of the original into situations, which would otherwise be out of reach for the original itself, for instance a concert can be reproduced in our room. However, Benjamin believes that even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.
The presence of the original is indispensable to the concept of authenticity, as authenticity is, according to Benjamin, linked to the essence of all that is transmissible from the object since its beginning and includes all the history that it has experienced. The reproduction, as offered for instance by a photograph, differs from the image seen by the naked eye. Uniqueness and permanence is linked to the second and transitoriness and reproducibility to the first. However, Benjamin does not see this a mere difference between the original and its reproductions, he argues that the “aura” of objects is destroyed by reproducing them.
A poster of Mona Lisa has less “cultural value” than the original at the Louvre, is it the same for a DVD copy and the actual film, a book and its .pdf version, why? How important is it for a work of art to be unique and authentic? We have come across these terms again in other texts, people keep returning to the concept of authenticity and seem to consider it to be highly important. However, at a time when almost everything can be reproduced, can we agree with the idea that the original is in some sense more valuable and reproduction in a way destroys it, as it takes something from it?