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Benjamin, Oldenburg, And Instagram

Benjamin, Oldenburg, And Instagram

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Published by Nina Earley

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Published by: Nina Earley on Aug 31, 2012
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Nina EarleyBen SloatMFA Semester 18.30.2012Walter Benjamin, Claes Oldenburg, and InstagramIn 1936 Walter Benjamin wrote about the effects photography and filmtechnologies will have on the future of art. Nearly 40 years later Claes Oldenburg penneda manifesto about what art is to him. Even though the philosopher and the artist never
met, both of their writings have common themes and both are applicable to today’s art
world in ways neither of them presumably could have imagined.In
“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936) Walter 
Benjamin examined the effect of technological advances on the art world. He stated that
“the uniqueness of a work of art is inseparable from its being imbedded in the fabric of 
” (19) and that this history has been shaken up by the invention and subsequent
dissemination of photography and film. Benjamin discussed
the importance of “the presence of the original (…) to the concept of authenticity”
13), defining the “aura” of a
work of art as:The authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissiblefrom its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to itstestimony to the history which it has experienced (14).He outlined the weight of tradition in art to underscore the change new technologies will
 bring along. With the invention of photographic equipment “mechanical reproduction
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emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual”
and with thisincreasing reproducibility the audience and viewing space for the work of art changes.Concerning these changes Benjamin wrote:Namely, the desire of contemporary masses to bring things
“closer” spatially and humanly, which is just as ardent as their bent
toward overcoming the uniqueness of every reality by accepting itsreproduction. Every day the urge grows stronger to get hold of anobject at very close range by way of its likeness, its reproduction(18).Art that previously had been elevated to be accessible to an elite and privilegedaudience only w
ould now be viewed by “the masses”
(18). In addition to the changing of the exhibition space, Benjamin discussed the blurring lines between artist and audience
that would be made possible. “The newsreel offers everyone the opportunity to rise from
 by to movie extra” (32). He could not fore
see to which degree this statement
would ring true: “the distinction between author and public is about to lose
its basic
character” (
32).While Claes Oldenburg is not an artist working in the medium of film thatBenjamin discussed, there are some overarching similarities in their published thoughtson art. Oldenburg became disillusioned with the elitist exhibit spaces found in galleriesand museums. Like Benjamin he embraced the reproducibility that new technologiesallowed him and he wanted to make work for the masses, both in meaning and access. Bybuilding plaster sculptures of everyday objects and selling them for an affordable price ina storefront space he created an interactive experience for his audience while
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simultaneously making statements about the commercialism of art (Steck). Through thiscreated environment he, like Benjamin had predicted, blurred the lines between artist andviewer.Oldenburg discussed his intentions by creating a list of statements that include thefollowing:I am for an art that is political-erotical-mystical, that doessomething other than sit on its ass in a museum.I am for an art that grows up not knowing it is art at all, an artgiven the chance of having a starting point of zero.
I am for an art that imitates the human, that is comic, if necessary, or violent, or whatever is necessary.
I am for the art of conversation between the sidewalk and ablind mans metal stick (Oldenburg 56).As is evidenced by the excerpts from his statement, Oldenburg sees the importance of artthat is accessible, and art that is created out of the every-day and ordinary, art that anyonecan make and understand.Both of these essays were written years before digital technologies were inventedand produced to the extent that they are now, and yet both make statements that are stillapplicable to the art world today. Through digital photography and access to computers,the Internet, and iPhones art has truly become accessible to anyone. Art now can beanything, seen by anyone, and made by anyone. An artist can benefit from the anonymitythat the Internet provides, while simultaneously exhibiting work to an audience that is
truly a mass in one instant. Benjamin wrote that “mechanical reproduction of art changes

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