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Response to “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936)”

I didn’t really finished the essay because I’m really slow reading English, however I happened to have read it in Chinese translation back in Shanghai, so I’m just writing down small pieces of thoughts.

I always feel that art is related to skills, and definition of skill varies through time. We tend to worship artworks that represent both artists’ great ideas and spectacular skills, sometimes even labors put in the work as well. Like different forms of art have different purposes to serve and different ideas to express, masters of different skills would have their own audience and appreciators (we have even martial “arts”, bad example?). Being written over 70 years ago while the film is still young, the essay compared films (silent and sound) to theatres that stated different circumstances that actors and audience might face.

Today it’s not questionable that mechanical reproduction is everywhere in our life. However people do adapt to keep up with the changes. Not only the way we create art changes (which is not to say we abandon traditional and primary ways of art, like drawing and sculpture), our interest and ability to appreciate different “aura” emitted by new forms of artwork advances as well. We see beauty in maths and software source codes, and also feel emotion in drawings and films. We appreciate efforts contributed in architectures, and also ideas expressed in performance arts.

However if the definition of “aura” stays as “unique phenomenon of a distance however close it may be”, it does seem that we have fewer art out of the mass quantity of ideas produced easily nowadays. Given the handy tools of inmitating previous artworks easily, we face the problem of even harder to dig and express the inner mental power. We do not have to spend years carving the stones or paint on the walls any more. While the tools are easy to use, they mean to ease the efforts for a certain work. This makes people ignore the ideas that drive the artwork and shortens the distance between artwork and its audience hence weakens/destroys the aura (that was used to be).

Even so, greater ideas would still find chance to emerge and more sophisticated skills would always be preferred, they are now just, closer.


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