Archive for October, 2005

Escape and destruction in Dream Jungle

Posted by kiraprater on Monday, October 31st, 2005

I thought it was interesting that Kwame Anthony Appiah said, in his essay: "It is an important question why this distancing of our ancestors should have become so central a feature of our cultural lives" (342). This made me think of how, in Dream Jungle, many of the characters escape or distance themselves from their families (and perhaps their ancestors).

Rizalina escapes her family first when her father and brothers are drowned, and then escapes her mother by running away. Vincent also escapes his family – his girlfriend and son in L.A. – and comes to the Philippines. Paz moves on to live in New York and L.A., and Ilse manages to escape from Zamora in divorce (although her children are ultimately returned to him). I’m not entirely sure what this all means – perhaps it’s just the theme that one can escape one’s own history, heritage, and ancestors. Or can you?

I like how Ada pointed out the issue of translation in the novel. There were a lot of untranslated words in the novel, and a lot of the time the characters couldn’t understand each other. This creates barriers between the characters, but also with the audience. I also wondered if this means that there is room for our own translation, our own interpretation? Meaning, that perhaps without a translation, the truth of something is ever elusive and ever open to interpretation, as we have sometimes discussed in class?

Dream Jungle and translation

Posted by ada on Monday, October 31st, 2005

Along with the many intertexual and historical elements that comprise parts of Jessica Hagedorn’s Dream Jungle, the question of translation also arises.  I am interested to see what you all think about the author’s decision to include un-translated words in several different languages throughout the text.  My first experience with Hagedorn was reading Dogeaters, in play form, which also had several words and phrases in different languages.  In this case, though, there was a glossary in the back, with the translations.  Do you think that Dream Jungle should have included a glossary?  I think that one of the major successes of the novel is that even without notes on translation, Hagedorn’s prose is lucid and evocative enough so that the reader can gain understanding of the words or phrases contextually and within the included sentences.  In fact, in some instances, I feel that the un-translated, italicized words were more effective in relating emotion, confusion, and sentiment.  The mix of Tagalog, German, Spanish, English and other languages intertwined the narratives of the individual yet interconnected stories.  It is interesting to note that language, particularly such a mix of languages, are that which binds the characters together.  Walter Benjamin, in his 1923 essay entitled “The Task of the Translator” asserts that translation is a mode, and therefore, one of the key elements in this mode is the original, and its meaning, particularly tied to the “translatability” of the original.  Then, because there is a temporal quality to the original and its relation to the translation, it is through the translation that the original work sustains and maintains a “continued life.”  Hagedorn’s decision to include in the text words that are un-translated echo Benjamin’s observations of translatability, not necessarily that the words cannot be translated, but that the text is better served by leaving the words un-translated, that their force as linguistic modes is more powerful in the original.  There is also the sense of a sustained life, in the telling and retelling of a tale in several translations, moving contextual and historical information to fit the language of the new translated text.

Happy Halloween

Posted by Mark Sample on Sunday, October 30th, 2005

Apropos of both Halloween and last week’s discussion on photography, simulacra, and Photoshop, check out Worth1000.com, a site that holds photoshopping contests. The latest contest challenges graphic artists to mashup a classic work of art with a monster (usually a Hollywood version of a monster).

So, we get things like Norman Rockwell meets Alien and Monet meets Swamp Thing.

Norman Rockwell Meets Alien

Dream Jungle, History, and Geography

Posted by Mark Sample on Friday, October 28th, 2005

As you work your way through Jessica Hagedorn’s Dream Jungle, you might want to read up on Philippine history, both ancient and contemporary. The novel is deeply invested in history, but also deeply playful, and, like Song of Solomon, deeply intertextual as well. The more of these historical and textual allusions you pick up on, the better appreciation you’ll have for the subtleties of the novel.

Just a sampling to consider: the Lopez de Legazpi name, the discovery of the Tasaday Tribe, Jose Rizal, Antonio Pigafetta and his account of the Magellan expedition, Hollywood Hills, Goya’s The Great He-Goat and Saturn Devouring His Son, the film Apocalypse Now.

See also David Lodge’s interview with Jessica Hagedorn.

How Benjamin liked film and stuff

Posted by skjeldaa on Tuesday, October 25th, 2005

Although it is not obvious due to the way his discussion on the traditional art work’s loss of ‘aura’ is represented, I find Benjamin’s essay to be very positive towards the new mechanically reproduced art forms. The fact that their emergence everywhere – i.e. the new focus on exhibition – has changed the way art is perceived, is of outmost importance to him. When read in connection with the introduction and epilogue, it becomes evident that Benjamin actually regards the ‘loss of aura’ and the ‘absorbtion of art by the masses’ to be what protects art from being used as an aesthetizied tool to promote party politics – like Fascism. I also liked the way he perceived the avant garde art of Dadaism as a forerunner to film and the new mode of perception the film developed. Stating that “[o]ne of the foremost tasks of art has always been the creation of a demand which could be fully satisfied only later”, Benjamin points out how Dadaism attempted to create in their pictorial and literary art the same effects the film today provides (17). Dadaist artworks were ‘reproductions’ deliberately useless for contemplation. Emerging at a time marked by the decline of the bourgeois, this art trend promoted distraction as an alternative to what it regarded the asocial bourgeois aesthetics of contemplation (Benjamin, 18). Its foremost objective was to shock and outrage the public. Benjamin regards the Dadaist art work as “an instrument of ballistics. It hit the spectator like a bullet, it happened to him, thus acquiring a tactile quality” (18). In this manner Dadaism initiated the demand for the distracted mode of participation now realized in film. The development from contemplative to tactile reception spurred by this avant-garde represents to Benjamin but one among many examples of how perception changes according to changes in humanity’s entire mode of existence (5). Radically overturning the more negative notion that the products of the culture industry represent a diminution of art (strongly argued by Adorno and Horkheimer, for instance), he also suggests that new mechanically reproduced forms like film may enrich more traditional art forms with important (primarily technical) insights (Benjamin, 29).

The Nervous System

Posted by Josh Lind on Tuesday, October 25th, 2005

It’s interesting that Benjamin’s essay attempts to be positive about the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction, but it reads so negatively.  Is that because we’ve all become a little jaded about how ‘the film’ (which we now know includes commercial television) works?  While it may destroy the commanding aura of the original and elite object, I think we’ve all come to understand that it effectively creates its own aura as well.  Any good Marxist knows that commodities are fetishized by the dissociation of use-value and exchange-value, and that the laborer is alienated by the separation of one’s labor from the object one creates by the fact that one is paid in dollar bills.  Obviously the next step in the triumph of capitalism is to make impossible the tactile relationship one might have with the fetishized object; the object is an image.  Benjamin sets up the actor-in-the-room and actor-on-the-screen binary in order to suggest that the film audience can somehow become more critical because of the actor’s absence, but it seems that the ‘shock effect’ of the camera’s work is more open to the inflated, uncritical, desirous gaping that accompanies the image of “breasts in a clinging sweater or the naked torso of the athletic hero” in Adorno and Horkheimer’s culture industry essay.  What’s even more scarifying – and yet something that we as a filmic culture have accepted with amazing pluck and aplomb – is that the system of reproducible images has changed the very way we perceive.  Benjamin’s thesis rests on a crucial ‘should be,’ when he states that “the shock effect of the film […] should be cushioned by heightened presence of mind” (238).  Even with his allowances for the intellectual laziness of the masses, Benjamin’s perspective on ‘distraction’ as a means toward critical perception sounds rather…I’m sorry…I got distracted by the cheerleaders on Monday Night Football…where was I going with this?

Note: This post was written before I was able to read any of the other posts, and so I didn’t realize that most of the class read Benjamin as being negative about film and reproducible images — and that there would be such a rousing defense of film.  I guess we’ll probably start with this discrepancy in our class discussion tonight.

this post will have no aura

Posted by zpeterse on Tuesday, October 25th, 2005

I agree with preceeding posts that a main problem with Benjamin’s essay is his use of "aura." I’m sure I know what he means by it, but I’m not sure how he feels about it. Is he lamenting the loss of authenticity in art, is he celebratory of the new aesthetic possibilities of film, or is he simply dreading the future of art in the hands of the masses? At times it seems that he is valuing one "high" (painting) art form over a "lower" (hollywood film) one, which, if he is, must be an unforseen mistake on his part. Capitalsim transformed the work of art into a commodity produced for the market, consumable by an uncritical mass, but the economic system has also had a hand in producing a great number of powerful forms of art in the 20th C. Concluding that Marlon Brando acted with no aura or arguing (as Adorno tried to do) that Charlie Parker played only repetitive snippets from popular songs would get you fired as an art critic today. So there seems to be an unbearable outdatedness to Benjamin, but im not so sure.

furthermore, there seems to be a struggle in "the work of art" on who owns culture: art critics, politicians, or the "masses," who are never defined by Benjamin. The article, although steeped in the history of art, has an urgent practical purpose in rescuing the work of art from the Nazis, and I’m wondering if that’s all we can say: Western art in the beginning served the magical and now serves the political. This "essence," "authenticity," "tradition," and "unique existence" of an artwork of old is in opposition to the modernday artwork as "image" or "spectacle." If anything, this binary opposition shouldn’t highlight a social and economic transformation as much as it should reveal how fragile these "aura" terms are. The meaning and beauty around any artwork throughout history is culturally constructed, and I think Benjamin says this. So what’s the real deal? Besides photography and film supplanting painting and theater as the new priviliged art forms, what has happened? Would the Nazis have been able to take control if photography and film hadn’t existed? I feel like I’m missing the point and i’m looking forward to tomorrow’s class discussion so that people can fill me in. 

Benjamin’s Thoughts on Art

Posted by Carolyn on Tuesday, October 25th, 2005

One of Benjamin’s main issues with a reproduction of a piece of art is that this copy does not have the connection to the artwork’s “presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be” (220). For me, this argument seemed to be placing too much emphasis on the exact history and time, and overlooking other reasons why people look at art and want reproductions of it. If you are reproducing something, especially a famous work of art, you will know the approximate time period of when the work was produced, and oftentimes, a signifier of a piece of art is that it is “timeless” and therefore would not need to be bound by the constraints of when it was created. If it is truly great art, we should be able to appreciate it no matter when it was created. Also, comparing a reproduction to the real thing would prove as an interesting comparison to see how the elements have affected the piece of art, especially if it is a statue or something outside. For example, many great Renaissance paintings have dulled over the years and were more recently restored to their original glory, but people were used to the faded colors from before. Comparing the old and the new would help students understand how works of art get damaged over time, and by making reproductions of both old and new available, the public could choose which color scheme they preferred. Art is subjective, and memory is unreliable, so why not have the ability and the choice to remember something the way you choose? I found Benjamin’s attitude to be snobby especially when he said that art becomes less valued when it is made available to more people. Isn’t the point of art to expose it to people so they will appreciate it and prompt new thoughts or ideas? If someone lives in a remote area, how often will they be able to see works of art, compared to someone who lives in New York City? Shouldn’t everyone be able to have some access to art, even if it is not the original?

I wonder what Benjamin would think of Photoshop, a program that can transform a picture into individual pixels so that it can be manipulated so precisely, it can be difficult to tell which is the original and which is the manipulation. He would probably be apalled, but I am just amazed at all the things one small program can accomplish. Our technology has evolved so much since this article was written, and those advancements are almost always portrayed in a positive light (think of how big cell phones were 10 years ago) that his arguments (as well as Aldous Huxley’s speech against technology in the footnotes) provide a change in perspective to challenge these views.

Just like a good wine!

Posted by Jakester on Tuesday, October 25th, 2005
 Now, I don’t exactly agree with the idea of things always getting better with time, I do think that this is one of the points that Benjamin seems to ignore about art in general. His argument seems a little high minded for my tastes in that he appears to side with the fact that "high art" is the only acceptable art, even though his definition of such a term is vague. He wavers between film, journalism and art, without ever really stating what he believes to be the best of these. All the while, I got the impression that his belief of maintaining the "Aura" of a work meant that anything that came after the initial creation or performance was a degradation of the original. I am a firm believer of the opposite. 
Of course I am speaking of this from a purely personal perspective, but in this case, I think it counters Benjamin’s argument to say something from the layman’s side of the ring. Taking art to the masses has been one of the better outcomes of the postmodern world. It was one of the same questions that came to mind when I was reading "Lathe of Heaven", who would be better suited to have the power to rearrange reality? Someone like George; a normal, uneducated layman? or The Good Doctor, who represented hierarchy and intellectualism? In the end of novel Le Guinn seems to want to say George was the answer; while I think that Benjamin would have sided with the doctor. Benjamin even complains (and I think most of this article sounded like a complaint) "Literary license is now founded on polytechnic rather than specialized training and thus becomes common property" (232)? Why would training guarantee quality writing or art in any form. His dispute that n number of artists of value are produced in a given time period is ludicrous, in that it ignores all other pieces of art in any genre that have not been proclaimed "masterpieces". 
Every piece of art (in any genre) will have its detractors and supporters. Every piece of art has its own intrinsic value that some will appreciate and others detest. Time will tell. In all things time will tell. As often as something is reproduced, it is given a new opportunity and a new audience. I have never actually seen a Turner Painting in the flesh, only in books, yet his art is some of the most moving and inspiring pieces for me; for me being the operative term. without the expansion of reproductions, many people would never have the chance to appreciate art in all of its form. Television, film, literature, painting, sculpture, there are many things to discover. Just imagine how many things (a highly intellectual term, I know) that were created before Benjamin are being discovered now. To discount what is being created now simply because it is the result of over reproduction or a "destruction of the Aura" is to not give people time to appreciate one work of art. Given time, everyone will find something that they truly enjoy, whether or not it has been dictated to them that "It is art and therefor must be appreciated". 
In our postmodern world, there is now more to offer people that can be enjoyed, often past the first time. to return to the point that Benjamin seemed to discount anything past the first performance or impression, postmodernism offers everything a second and third and fourth chance. In some cases it is through remakes; where something old is done in a new fashion. In other cases, it is referenced in the type of intertextuality that is common of postmodernism and can be referenced in almost any form of art. Lastly, there is the collage, where at times, an older piece of art is added upon with other works to create a whole new point of reference. 
As I said before, I feel that with time, all things have a chance to be appreciated more, like a good bottle of wine. I’m not applying this to everything that has ever been categorized as art, especially since so many "good" bottles of wine are often opened and found to be spoiled, no matter how much they cost. 

Animated Film as Art?

Posted by karen on Monday, October 24th, 2005

    Julie G’s post made me think, too, of how Benjamin would view the latest advancements in computer graphic technology in film, such as recent films completely animated by computer.  No longer do the “cartoon” versions of film rely on artists sketching multiple copies and versions of characters to imitate (reproduce?) human features, expressions, movements, etc.  Now, entire feature-length films are created without the need for a pencil-to-paper artist (think Shrek, Shark Tale, and all of the dozens of other similarly constructed movies in the last five years or so).  Going from people on stage to people in films created enough of a difference in “art”ness.  I wonder what his take would be on the original animated films – I picture Disney’s original Sleeping Beauty or Snow White – (imitations of people in films) as a form of art (they were, after all, paintings on cells) and then what his take would be on the new technological move to digital graphics (computer-generated versions of imitations of people in films).  I assume he would maintain his film-is-not-(as much)-art stance; however, would he now find films starring people more art-like than animated films?  And what about the original animated film versus the digitally produced animation of today?  Going even further, what about the animated films that have been digitally enhanced from their original versions (copies/reproductions of imitations of people – one’s head could really get spinning here!)?

     The part of Benjamin’s article that I find most interesting in regards to his film/acting discussion is the part that discusses the actor’s part/participation in the film experience.  Benjamin quotes Pirandello about the void an actor feels with his “performance”:  “ ‘The film actor . . . feels as if in exile – exiled not only from the stage but also from himself . . . his body loses its corporeality, it evaporates, it is deprived of reality, life, voice, and the noises caused by his moving about, in order to be changed into a mute image, flickering an instant on the screen, then vanishing into silence’” (229).  I found this description to be (ironically) quite artistic and poetic.  The idea that removing the actor from the true, genuine atmosphere of a stage performance (with reactions and interpersonal connections) causes the actor to lose a part of himself (and thus, a part of his art/artfulness) is intriguing.  I am sure a great debate exists between film and stage actors over which is the truer form of the profession; though, really, we frequently see film/TV actors dipping their toes into stage acting, and similarly, probably most film actors got their start on the stage of their high school auditorium.  I found Benjamin’s discussion of writer/author also interesting (especially in light of the internet age – everyone is now capable of being a published and read author by simply posting a blog!), though I felt that he did not develop that idea nearly as thoroughly as he did his film analysis and would have been interested in reading more along that line.

(PS: Sorry if this posts in two different sizes or fonts – I can’t seem to fix it!)

Devil’s Advocate

Posted by John Webster on Monday, October 24th, 2005

Benjamin’s piece clearly has its flaws, but he’s also got some good points…of which I’ll discuss one.  He says that “mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual.  To an even greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility.”  This means that film is radically different from most other art forms.  How much does it cost to create a painting?  Write a book?  A poem?  Take a picture?  Even the cost of buying the material to sculpt a statue pales in comparison to the cost of making a film.  (Yes, I know one must take audience into consideration if a book, poem or picture is to be published or a picture sold; but the simple act of creating a book, poem, picture or painting requires very little financial investment.)  But the filmmaker, on the other hand, must, in most cases, keep profitability in mind when creating his film (unless he’s Mel Gibson or Kim Jong Il).  Thus his film must be designed, to a significant extent, for its reproducibility if it’s to be profitable.  Before one can create a film, she needs a significant financial commitment.  Therefore the artist must almost necessarily consider profitability, which requires reproduction in film’s case, when she’s conceiving her art; this is a radical shift from art that preceded film, and it democratizes film as an art form; but, contrary to current sentiment, democracy is not always a good thing.  By requiring the filmmaker to create art that as a precondition must be received by many people, the medium of film constrains the filmmaker’s artistic imagination.  That’s not to say that truly original and creative films of artistic merit that don’t appeal to the masses can’t be created (see Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle…who the hell financed these anyway?).  But for the most part, films must appeal to a large audience – though I know “large” is subjective; this constrains the filmmaker’s imagination, creativity and abilities, and it also represents a radical departure from those art forms that preceded film.  All this could be changed, however, by the proliferation of digital video, inexpensive editing software and the internet as a platform for distribution.  But in context, Benjamin has a point.

Modern Benjamin Comparisons

Posted by nicole on Monday, October 24th, 2005

Bits and pieces of Benjamin’s article along with blog postings have begun to tie into a project I’m doing on newsletters. (similar to Benjamin’s discussion of Letters to the Editor, etc). These were initially published by individuals with great expertise and who were sought after for their insider’s information, or insight, on whatever specialized topic. These individuals were well-educated, skilled writers, and often times publicly revered. The newsletters were done on typewriters and even when computers became available writers would still maintain the “typewriter”-style font and layout because it was what the targeted audience was used to. With time and technological advances, the newsletter industry boomed and now any Joe Schmoe with a PC, printer or an email address can spit out their own personal newsletter. Instead of using the same old fashion fonts and designs, they’ve advanced in skill and artistic expression. One of Benjamin’s issues with the evolution of “art” is that through technology, through the new emerging forms of artistic expression, the once isolated field becomes easily accessible by anyone. The reproduction issue arises. The traditional newsletter has lost its “aura” because it’s been poked and prodded by the masses, just as the “aura” of writing, or being published, has lost some of its magic because it’s become a universally accessible market. (232) Benjamin says, “To pry an object from its shell, to destroy its aura, is the mark of a perception whose ‘sense of the universal equality of things’ has increased to such a degree that it extracts it even from a unique object by means of reproduction (223).” I didn’t entirely understand what he meant by this, but through comparing it to the newsletter evolution that I’m reading about, I can see how something that used to be “artistic” is then lessened, or cheapened, by so many replicas and reproductions. Now, I also don’t think that personalized newsletters (or I guess the even more advanced form would be Internet blogs) can’t have their own artistic right, or that someone should be denied personal artistic expression through whatever medium they choose… but the fact that there are so many does make them less valuable. People don’t pay subscriptions to newsletters now like they used to before. Benjamin is criticizing the evolution of artistic expression because (I think) he’s saying it’s losing its unique appeal. Anyone can be an artist, just as anyone can be a writer, and with the use of technology it really doesn’t take a massive amount of talent to do so. I think in the postmodern genre that concept is made untrue because the filmmakers and authors and painters have retained their originality and unique expression through revamping the “aura” altogether. Although, in reference to Ada’s interesting response, I don’t know how Kinkade would fit into that assumption. This much I feel I understand, it’s when he begins to tie the evolution of art into Communism and Fascism and war that I get uh, well, confused.

Benjamin Today

Posted by Mike Scalise on Monday, October 24th, 2005

There were many elements of this essay that have evolved quite interestingly in the years since Benjamin published this work, and as I read it I kept thinking how he would react to the evolution of certain aspects of film and photography, not to mention print media.

I was really intrigued during the passages that explored the photograph/film’s disintegrating relationship to the aura of an image’s authenticity through mass production, which. He notes that both forms "lead to a tremendous shattering of tradition" (221). I was struck by the paragraphs on pages 224-225 that the relationship of the cult to the mass audience, and I kept wondering how Benjamin would categorize to recent advent of rotoscoping filmed images. (Quickly: this is a type of software-based animation technique developed recently and used in music videos, commercials, and widely released motion pictures starring shoplifters.) I’d be curious to see what Benjamin would have made of this further delusion of an image’s aura, and how it further relates to his passages on page 230, where he uses quotes by Rudolf Arnheim to re-characterize the actor in relation to filmic complexities.

These passages then caused me to think about the advent of bluescreening, and Arnheim’s idea of "treating the actor as a stage prop. . .inserted at the proper place."  (230). Considering the prevalence of certain major motion pictures to rely almost entirely on bluescreening and CGI, this statement takes on much more weight, and again, I’d be interested to see what Benjamin would maybe have said about it.

Some of his thoughts on print media and photography, have in some way or another, manifested themselves on the web. His passage on page 235 about the elk to illustrate the relationship to the cult being co-opted by art made me think of an interesting magazine called Found, which is almost completely comprised of objects discovered and submitted by its readership. This not only speaks to the reallocation of an intended audience to apply artistic value, but it also speaks to the later passages on 232 where Benjamin talks about the evolving role of literature: "At any moment, the reader is is ready to turn into a writer" (232). And of course, something that screamed out THIS IS APPLICABLE TO BLOGS, LOOK LOOK: "Literary license is now founded on polytechnic rather than specialized training and thus becomes common property" (232).

Lastly, his discussion of Atget’s photographs on page 226 were interesting, and I was wondering what he would make of photoshop culture to ascribe a "hidden political significance" to something seemingly normal.

Art or Distraction?

Posted by julie g. on Monday, October 24th, 2005

I’m not sure what to write here. I almost wish we had read something written more recently because I’d be interested to know what critics, or Benjamin, have to say about the new computer age we’ve approached. An article on mass production, while still hugely applicable today, seems passé next to discussion on computer animation and graphics where one can question whether the art ever existed, much less had an “aura.” Anyway…

It seems elitist of Benjamin to say that “real” art “invites the spectator to contemplation” (238). That only true art is “think-y” art and that film doesn’t allow the viewers to think what they want to think: ergo, film is lesser art. Ok, I think most critics would agree that there are different levels of art and contemplative art generally fits on that higher plane. However, Benjamin dismisses all film from this category and doesn’t acknowledge that there are different levels of film just as there are different levels of paintings. He does bring up a good point that “the masses seek distraction whereas art demands concentration from the spectator” (239). But look at Spielberg vs. (insert artsy director…I don’t really know any by name). Dude Where’s My Car vs. Memento. Benjamin asserts that the “cult value” of art is lost in film; however, I argue that the cult values are still evident in the movie industry. There will always be “Indie” flicks shown only at the Sundance Film Festival that are done for the sake of art or some higher form. (Created for the critics instead of the spirits?)

A simple response, yes, but I was really annoyed at the one-sided view Benjamin gave. He criticizes the “absent-minded” public and seems to assert that the creators of film purposefully manipulate their art in order “to mobilize the masses” instead of making art for art’s sake (240). He also says that the more the public likes a piece the “greater the decrease in the social significance” (234). In other words, if the public likes it then it’s not art. Haven’t critics been saying this about art since the beginning of time? (Actually, he does make reference to this, so maybe I am missing something here.) I wonder if Benjamin would still hold the same point of view today or if  he is just critiquing something new and different.

Peace and tranquility in the age of mechanical reproduction

Posted by ada on Monday, October 24th, 2005

Walter Benjamin’s essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” moves between analyses of several creative mediums- from woodcutting to lithography, to painting to film. These mediums each have their own unique qualities that allow for reproduction, and because of this are viewed on different planes and places in the art world. Benjamin identified the advent of photography as the impetus for debate that looks at the reproducibility of an object that is inherently a refraction of the original. Though a photograph may seem the most tangible representation of the truth and yet, by the very nature of the process, it is an inversion of the image, let alone the factors that play into the set up of the shot. Photographic reproductions also come into play when thinking about the methods of reproduction that are employed. When thinking about postmodern art, the reassignment of objects, their essence and meaning, plays a large role in the presentation of the artwork. The original object, whether it is Jeff Koons and his basketballs in a glass case-Three Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Two Dr J Silver Series, Spalding NBA Tip-Off) , Sherrie Levine taking pictures of famous photographs and presenting them with such titles as After Walker Evens #13, or even Andy Warhols Brillo boxes made to look exactly like the product, the recontextualization of the original intention of the object provides a great dialogue. (There is a great Andy Warhol exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, with a lot of stuff from the Warhol Museum in Pittsburg, I highly recommend it) Whether they are commodity critics or anti-aesthetes, some postmodern artists are aware of the modes of reproduction available in their work. They revel in this fact, and employ methods that both critique and rely on these techniques.
I would like to make an argument, tying in Benjamins assertions of art and mechanical reproduction, to look at an artist who in no way, shape, or form would be considered postmodern, and is in fact does not fall into any high art categories- Thomas Kinkade. If the cockles of your heart have not yet been warmed by his beautifully tranquil cottage scenes, or the magnificent renderings of light at dusk, please peruse his website. Thomas Kinkade Apart from the accessibility of the object of his art, Kinkade is also the ultimate in mass reproduction. His art sells in his own, individually managed retail stores. There are levels that a collector or his art can attain, depending on how many Kinkades one owns. The process of Kinkades work is where the reproducibility comes into play. An original, painted by the artist will fetch a good amount of money, though for the consumer, unable to drop that kind of dough, Kinkade has an army of trained highlighters who paint some colors, mostly accentual, onto poster prints of the work. These are ostensibly cheaper, and yet are a big part of the Kinkades goals of having his work present in each and every American household. There are echoes of this sort of process in Benjamins discussion of mechanical reproduction, when he states, the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility (224). In a very postmodern moment, in 2001, a community was built in Vallejo, California, with homes modeled after and furnished and decorated with the work of Thomas Kinkade. For about $425,000 (in 2001) you could buy a property in this Kinkade village and live in perfect tranquility, as if you were actually a part of the art work.

Woe is Me, The Movie Finatic

Posted by julie/jules on Monday, October 24th, 2005

Admittedly, I am a subject of and subject to the gross scheme of capitalism Hollywood signifies, since I love movies: Hollywood, foreign, old, new, Noir, mainstream, low- budget, obese- budget, etc. I agree with Benjamin in the sense that the capitalist propagated mass culture entails mass production and mechanical reproduction that does annhilate "authenticity" in that "the presence of the original" is no longer feasible or desired. I disagree with him, however, insofar as certain film and photography are "authentic" modern and postmodern texts that are equally artistic and "auristic" in contemporary culture as was painting prior to "the developmental tendencies of art under present conditions of production."

Benjamin insists, as do I, that "the authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced." By extension, Benjamin suggests that anything that is duplicated no longer bears the authenticity of "the unique" work of art. Just as copies of the original paintings of Monet are worth a piddling fraction of the original, any tangible art that is ‘reproduced’ is authentically reductive. Benjamin, and Duhamel, critic and extremist in his hatred of all that is cinematic, cite that film, and its precurser, photography, are ‘illusion-promoting spectacles of distraction’ born out of an age of mechanical reproduction and mass commodification. Every tool to make a film is mechanized, ‘reproducible,’ and therefore, lacking "aura." While film utilized the latest technology, which is mass produced, ‘the creators’ or the people responsible for writing, production, and creation, still exist. To say that technology and the reproducibility of the means and ends of film production render ‘the creators’ or artists obsolete, is perhaps a reflection of the critic’s ignorance of ‘the art’ of film rather than his understanding.

As was earlier mentioned in a previous blog, I realize that holding on to tradition and conventional understandings of art in ‘a time of uncertainty’, World War Numero Uno, is a common and possibly necessary reaction to the dissolusionment of cultural collapse amid the mass death of the future generation. "The Lost Generation," to which I’m not sure Benjamin is necessarily a card carrying member, had few if any hopes for the future return of substance in the form of culturally codified traditions. The emergence of film might have been one more alarming mutation that morphed out of the onset of the 20th Century, according to those to whom ‘the old ways,’ of painting included, represented tride and true age-old conventions that made sense. The advent of technology, whether under the gigantor, souless machine of industrial capitalism or some other evil, has produced new art and has made it accessible to the masses, such as myself, rather than preserved it for the elite ‘cult’ of yore. While the phenomenon of exhibited art for the public is unconscienable to those that could afford to view it as an elite member of socity, I revel in it.

I concede that most Hollywood films are grossly formulaic, mushy, and hyper-unrealistic fantasy narratives that serve little purpose beyond perpetuating the dominant cultural and social normative order, but there are those miraculously occuring films, photography exhibits, graphic arts, and other hypertexts that transcend the means and ends of production for the lowest common denominator. Sometimes, its possible that even Hollywood is infected by such creativity, in which case, creativity and mass culture combine in yet another type of artistic mutation: Star Wars- not the new ones, Donnie Darko, Ghandi, Taxi Driver, anything Alfred Hitchcock, and so on and so forth.

Even if paintings cultivate concentration, which is, of course magic, and film promotes ‘collective distraction’ and criticism (not that I agree with this narrow assessment of film), why isn’t there room for both? Why does Benjamin insist that "art," in its broadest sense, should not evolve and continually ‘become?’ Why must art be constricted to narrow definitions proposed by critics such as Benjamin that are no longer applicable in the 21rst century? Paintings are fine, meticulous, beautiful, an excorcism of exceptiional talent (given that they’re good), but then again, so are a lot of art forms, ancient and contemporary.