Art, Technology, Rituals, and Politics

“An analysis of art in the age of mechanical reproduction must do justice to these relationships, for they lead us to an all-important insight: for the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual. To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility. From a photographic negative, for example, one can make any number of prints; to ask for the "authentic” print makes no sense. But the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice – politics.“

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

- Walter Benjamin, 1936

It was realized in the early 20th century that art was evolving with technology. Before the advent of film, the fine arts were entirely dependent on the established techniques in their paintings. The craft was developed to be a traditional art form of conveying the time’s ideas in a "beautiful” way. And as technology advanced and worked toward a certain form of art, these ideas or messages that were once difficult for traditional art forms to attain were then becoming effortless.


Steve McCurry, 1983 / Juxtaposing the past and present by photographing the railroads that stitch Britain and India together.

What film brought was the opportunity to capture the life’s moment and preserve it indefinitely. And in a series of photographs or moving image, it provided the viewer the ability to thoroughly analyze human behavior from multiple points of view. It increased the scale and scope of it’s audience and allowed the masses to view and experience the art. Film opened up conversations that questioned concepts such as how an art form’s authenticity, or “aura”, is affected by mass reproduction, and if the object still carries the same value despite it’s copies. 


Steve McCurry, 2013 / US photographer Steve McCurry poses next to his photos of the “Afghan Girl”, made popular by being featured on the cover of National Geographic magazine.

Walter Benjamin witnessed art taking this turn as a form of political expression. Advances in technology allowed the masses to experience a new art form in an accessible way beginning with film, and with time, the technology and art will continue to deepen that experience.

- A