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The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

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"The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" is a 1936 essay by German
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 cultural critic Walter Benjamin
Walter Benjamin
Walter Bendix Schönflies Benjamin was a German-Jewish intellectual, who functioned variously as a literary critic, philosopher, sociologist, translator, radio broadcaster and essayist...

, which has been influential across the humanities
Humanities
The humanities are academic disciplines that study the human condition, using methods that are primarily analytical, critical, or speculative, as distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural sciences....

, and especially in the fields of cultural studies
Cultural studies
Cultural studies is an academic field grounded in critical theory and literary criticism. It generally concerns the political nature of contemporary culture, as well as its historical foundations, conflicts, and defining traits. It is, to this extent, largely distinguished from cultural...

, media theory
Media influence
Media influence or media effects are used in media studies, psychology, communication theory and sociology to refer to the theories about the ways in which mass media affect how their audiences think and behave....

, architectural theory
Architectural theory
Architectural theory is the act of thinking, discussing, or most importantly writing about architecture. Architectural theory is taught in most architecture schools and is practiced by the world's leading architects. Some forms that architecture theory takes are the lecture or dialogue, the...

 and art history
Art history
Art history has historically been understood as the academic study of objects of art in their historical development and stylistic contexts, i.e. genre, design, format, and style...

. Written at a time when Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 was already Chancellor of Germany, it was produced, Benjamin wrote, in the effort to describe a theory of art that would be "useful for the formulation of revolutionary demands in the politics of art". In the absence of any traditional, ritualistic value, art in the age of mechanical reproduction would inherently be based on the practice of politics.

Influence


John Berger
John Berger
John Peter Berger is an English art critic, novelist, painter and author. His novel G. won the 1972 Booker Prize, and his essay on art criticism Ways of Seeing, written as an accompaniment to a BBC series, is often used as a university text.-Education:Born in Hackney, London, England, Berger was...

 drew on ideas from the essay for Ways of Seeing
Ways of Seeing
Ways of Seeing is a 1972 BBC four-part television series of 30 minute films created chiefly by writer John Berger and producer Mike Dibb. Berger's scripts were adapted into a book of the same name. The series and book criticize traditional Western cultural aesthetics by raising questions about...

, his four part television series, and subsequent book, for the BBC
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 first broadcast in 1972. Berger's point, which he made far more explicitly than Benjamin, is that the modern means of production have destroyed the authority of art: "For the first time ever, images of art have become ephemeral, ubiquitous, insubstantial, available, valueless, free."

The essay also had a major influence on the Frankfurt School
Frankfurt School
The Frankfurt School refers to a school of neo-Marxist interdisciplinary social theory, particularly associated with the Institute for Social Research at the University of Frankfurt am Main...

 and their aesthetic and political analysis, particularly Theodor W Adorno, Max Horkheimer
Max Horkheimer
Max Horkheimer was a German-Jewish philosopher-sociologist, famous for his work in critical theory as a member of the 'Frankfurt School' of social research. His most important works include The Eclipse of Reason and, in collaboration with Theodor Adorno, The Dialectic of Enlightenment...

 and Herbert Marcuse
Herbert Marcuse
Herbert Marcuse was a German Jewish philosopher, sociologist and political theorist, associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory...

.

Typo or mis-translation?



The English translation of the essay, first published by the publishing house Johnathan Cape, and later by Fontana Press (part of Harper Collins) contains a prominent mistake, assumed to be a mis-translation or typing error. The translator's name is not mentioned. The last two sentences of the Introduction in the original German sentence read:

"Die im folgenden neu in die Kunsttheorie eingeführten Begriffe unterscheiden sich von geläufigeren dadurch, daß sie für die Zwecke des Faschismus vollkommen unbrauchbar sind. Dagegen sind sie zur Formulierung revolutionärer Forderungen in der Kunstpolitik brauchbar."

The English translation should read:

"The concepts which are introduced into the theory of art in what follows differ from the more familiar terms in that they are completely useless for the purposes of fascism. They are, on the other hand, useful for the formulation of revolutionary demands in the politics of art."

However, the words "purposes of fascism. They are, on the other hand, useful for the" are missing. The resultant single sentence makes sense grammatically but inadvertently inverts Benjamin's meaning:

"The concepts which are introduced into the theory of art in what follows differ from the more familiar terms in that they are completely useless for the formulation of revolutionary demands in the politics of art."

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