Art and Alienation


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In “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility,” Benjamin discusses the art of film as a form of alienation. It not only alienates the actor from the stage of the performer in the case of performing art, but also estranges him from his own person (31). That is to say, the actor is objectified before the camera and is deprived of its authenticity to some extent. One feature of art that Benjamin pointed out through this case is alienation, and this is indispensable from the new form of artistic reproduction. Benjamin argues that technological reproduction of art destroys its “aura,” which is bound to the actor’s “presence in the here and now” (31). In other words, the historical process that produced the art is separated from the display of the artwork

The same logic also applies to the still form of art: paintings and sculptures that hang in museum and art galleries. Once being put in institutions of arts, the artwork becomes an isolated object, a high art, that is detached from the time, space that produced it and the artist that made it. This, it seems to me, in turn helps the transmission of what the piece of art wants to express, because only when a piece of art is separated from the process of production, can it become an independent work. The liberation of an artwork from its “background” actually helps with its interpretation, because it foregrounds both the abstract ideas that the artist wishes to express and the form of art that embodies those ideas. Under such an interpretation, the alienation of art from its form of production actually promotes the interfaces between the object of art and its viewers.

Even though museum alienates an artwork from the space and time that the artwork was produced, it promotes a new form of space and time in the transmission of artwork. Debray proposes that “if communication transports essentially through space, transmission essentially transports through time” and that “with transmission, time is appreciable internally” (3). Transmission prolongs the interfaces between an individual and a piece of artwork, and emphasizes the forms or symbols of an artwork that helps the viewer to interpret and communicate with it. Even though the institution of art deprives the aura of an artwork, it puts the artwork in a new form of space and time that enables the interface between an artwork and its viewer.

Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility.” Harvard Univ. Press, 2003.

Debray, Régis. Transmitting CultureTranslated by Eric Rauth. Columbia University Press, 2000.