Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Art Loses its Aura?

Paulina Longworth
Painted by Elena and Berta De Hellebranth (1930)
International Newsreel

The New York Times has some interesting photos showing painters and sculptors at work, as in the photograph above, not one of the more interesting ones, unfortunately, but I couldn't copy a fascinating one showing Norma Jeanne Bernstein painting the singer and actress Tamara Drasin in 1931, a photograph in which the painting retains a special quality of mystery, potentially disconfirming Walter Benjamin's famous point about painting's loss of its aura, its uniquely 'sacred' quality originally derived -- if I might speculate, or perhaps vaguely recall -- from the artist as 'prophetic' figure whose halo was lost in the gutter (according to Baudelaire):
Walter Benjamin, in his famous 1936 essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," argued that photography and film changed the nature of all art, because they shifted attention from the artifact, which was unique and authentic, to the portable image, which could be reproduced again and again with no loss of power or value -- and from the painter's or sculptor's hand to the photographer's eye . . . . [T]he painting's uniqueness, which Benjamin called its aura, disappears in the photograph. (John Leland and Darcy Eveleigh, "Artists Caught on a Camera's Canvas," New York Times August 16, 2012)
The paintings above by the De Hellebranth sisters might never have had much of an aura to lose, for they certainly lack any in this photographic reproduction, but if you go to the actual article and look at Bernstein's painting of Tamara Drasin, the first in the gallery series, I believe you'll agree that the aura of this painting is retained in its photographic reproduction.

I realize Benjamin meant that an artwork that can be reproduced 'mechanically' lacks an aura -- and a photograph doesn't actually reproduce a painting -- but Leland and Eveleigh state that a painting's uniqueness, or aura, vanishes in the photograph, though they perhaps meant merely that photographs lack an aura.

Perhaps someone more knowledgeable than I can clarify this point.

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At 9:52 PM, Blogger John from Daejeon said...

This is a different type of art that you might really enjoy:

"A new version of the classic TV series, Have Gun - Will Travel was handed a script deal by CBS with writer David Mamet on board as writer and EP along with non-writing EP Elliott Webb. If the pilot is ordered, Mamet will also direct. Have Gun - Will Travel originally ran on CBS from 1957-1963 starring Richard Boone. CBS TV Studios is producing the new version."

Mamet is a great writer, but for this to actually make it to series, casting is key. There aren't many Richard Boones walking around.

At 9:58 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Since I recall the series, albeit vaguely, I'll be hard to please.

Thanks for the head's up.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what do you mean by '-and a photography doesn't actually reproduce a painting'
because my view of his text, suggests that he thinks photography is not a real art form as its a photo of another photo and lacks originality compared to that a painting which can only be produced once.

At 4:26 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

In my experience, paintings look different in photographs -- in fact, some poor paintings look better.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

in walter benjamin's text is he stating that its no longer possible to talk of the 'aura of an artwork' i realise its an ambiguous text. but what is his view? that aura is lost due to film and photography?


At 4:39 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I think that his point was something like what you say. I'd need to return to the text and remind myself. Maybe it's worth a blog entry.

Jeffery Hodges

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