Tag Archives: Walter Benjamin

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: an essay by Walter Benjamin


Mona Lisa mechanically reproduced

As Benjamin is quoted form this particular essay in OCA course notes I decided to look up the text as part of a growing interest that I am encouraging in myself in absorbing critical theory in order to develop a deeper thought process and a more challenging approach.

“The mode of human sense perception changes with humanity’s entire mode of existence.” (Benjamin,1936, p216), as history determines human perception as well as nature. The essay discusses how the process of mechanical reproduction the new entire mode of existence removes the aura of an object and has effectively led to the irrelevance of uniqueness and with it the concept of authenticity to the masses. Art is no longer a feature of ritual and therefore now becomes political, polarised by cult and exhibition value. In this new age art is not just reproducible but is designed for reproduction in the way that the photographic negative can generate multiple versions rendering the concept of authenticity as obsolete.

With the viewer removed directly from artist or actor the viewer becomes the critic instead of the audience ensuring that, “the conventional is uncritically enjoyed, and the truly new is criticized with aversion.” (Benjamin, W.1936). Expert criticism is replaced by enjoyment accessed with less concentration, absorbed more passively.

One of the major questions surrounding photography was always whether the medium could be considered as art whereas Benjamin (1936) believed that the more relevant and pertinent thought was that the entire nature of art had actually shifted in the light of the new age of mechanical reproduction.

In his epilogue Benjamin sees a mass proletariat who are granted by Fascism, “not their right, but instead the chance to express themselves.” (Benjamin, W. 1936)

This is a truly insightful and inspiring text and appears to instantly explain why advancements in technology and production have led to mass participation in mass art practices. This has obvious implications for fundamental questions such as has this democracy led to an erosion of art? Has there been a reduction in artistic standards and criticism? Does it explain the growth and proliferation of popular culture and mass media? Now that everybody has an equal voice do they have an equal opinion? How do we deal with this?

A lesson in absorbing critical theories and in their importance to us in developing a deeper thought process and a more challenging approach.



Benjamin, W. Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harry Zohn. London: Pimlico, 1999.

Mona Lisa Image taken from https://photographyfall2012.wordpress.com (accessed 28/03/16)