Transforming Perception: De-Blackboxing Technological Reproduction

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Developing a theory for media and mediation is essential in understanding how art and all cultural forms can be presented in an interpretive interface because we derive meaning from how art and culture are presented, as much as from the artefacts themselves. Debray notes that transmission of the content or information of the art is more important than the preservation of the material of the object itself (4). Working from this idea, without understanding the ways in which media transmits culture, it would be difficult to use technology as a medium for transmission and preservation of information. Similarly, Malraux understood that the technologies themselves are not the main focus, but rather the “institutions and ideologies mediated through our technologies “ (Irvine, 10).

The creator of a piece of artwork may have had certain ideas and beliefs that were inextricably linked to the work, but that does not determine how the work will be perceived forever. The museum as a mediator’s job is to create a context where the art can be perceived (creating dialogue) but also to partake in the transformation and constant reframing of the concept of art. In this sense, the museum as a construct does not confine the art to simply historical reference. Malraux (qtd. In Irvine) says, “we have learned that, if death cannot still the voice of genius, the reason is that genius triumphs over death not by reiterating its original language, but by constraining us to listen to a language constantly modified, sometimes forgotten–as it were an echo answering each passing century with its own voice–and what the masterpiece keeps up is not a monologue, however authoritative, but a dialogue indefeasible by time” (Irvine, 13).

To illustrate further, Walter Benjamin says, “the uniqueness of the work of art is identical to its embeddedness in the context of tradition” (256). He further talks about how the idea of authenticity has changed due to reproductions such as photographs. Authenticity is at the core of art value, therefore, “as soon as the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applied to artistic production, the whole social function of art is revolutionized” (257). Both Benjamin and Malraux use theory to understand how transmission and reception are reframed over time. Benjamin also discusses how the way art is recepted is linked to social context. Media and mediation are systems with multiple networks and actors that depend on one another to function and create meaning. Therefore, art is best understood when all parts of the perception are consider (historical context, material, medium, individual). Media theory presents us with a framework that is: reproduction is just one part of the process of remediation of art, and we learn more about the art by looking at the system in which it operates rather than the physical art itself.  


Martin Irvine, “André Malraux, La Musée Imaginaire (The Museum Idea) and Interfaces to Art”.

Régis Debray, Transmitting Culture, trans. Eric Rauth. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility” (1936; rev. 1939).