Redefine the Boundary

  • From the Altar to the Street

Art is full of a sense of sacredness. Every piece of art work has its specific and unique meaning, which has become a historical existence since its birth.  This kind of feature leads to the nature distance between the art and public. In reality, the images are placed in the church instead of in every corner of the family and society. Hymns are performed in the ceremony instead of being randomly sung as pop songs. Another meaning of the distance is sacred inviolability. In the way of receiving art, people adopt a way of “staring”, through which they can achieve rapt attention, meditation and divine power

Technological reproduction makes the objects receiving artistic works reach the level of “Tactile receiving” due to the reduction of natural distance. At the same time, it also makes it possible for the public to change from the object of viewing artworks to the subject of creating artworks. It does not need more professional training to create artworks through technological reproduction, but only needs artistic concept.

Just as in the beginning, artists used photography as a tool rather than an artistic medium for creation: that was, painters often used photos to help their paintings. The recording function made photography as a kind of tool, and the tool, like the painter’s brush and canvas, could not be regarded as a piece of art.

On the other hand, photography, even as a recording tool, posed a threat to painting at its birth. Photography simplifies the process of creation and lowers the threshold. At this time, if photography was regarded as an artistic medium, it had been unintentionally equivalent to lowering the threshold of art. Before photography, for example, portraiture was a privilege reserved only for aristocrats, royals and the wealthy. A good portrait is a test of a craftsman’s skill. Photography suddenly simplifies all skills. Compared with painting, photography is easy to operate. Ten years of painting practice even could not be compatible with the short exposure. At the same time, the cost of the portrait fell sharply. Portraits were no longer a symbol of privilege, and portrait painters faced a great threat at that moment.

The contradiction lies in the relationship between the objectivity and subjectivity of photography itself decides the fact that photography was transferred from a tool of reproducing the reality to the art. Art as an emphasis on subjective expression requires author’s own mark on it. Therefore, although photography itself can well record things, it emphasizes that the way to record things is the subjective embodiment. A photographer does not claim rights to his photographs by signing them, but his personal marks are often reflected in the objects he photographs, so modern photography is limited to “photography of something”. But photography, like painting, can lie, can express, and can have an emotional impact on the viewer.

However, in terms of history, photography actually lacks a complete and unified development direction. Although Pictorialism and Straight Photography were mentioned in class before, it is also difficult to summarize its development. Photography is more easily defined by a group of people. The wide use of photography makes its purity lower than that of painting and sculpture. Photography can be used not only in the commercial way but also in the medical aspect.

  • Cross the Boundary

Imagine if a flower or a tree had grown since the 16th century. How would you feel when you saw it? The same is true for works of art. Work of art is a living thing and no reproduction can take away its experiences and uniqueness.

Mr. Bean and Monalisa

In this age of technological reproduction, however, each additional copy diminishes the value of the original. So they were misinterpreted, and the Mona Lisa was covered in a mustache, photoshopped with strange expressions, bangs and tiaras.

Technological reproduction has dragged the appreciation of art from the temple to thecorner of the street. According to the verification of detection effect, the art viewers have changed their artistic experience from concentration to recreational acceptance. And the function of art has changed from “requiring the public to think it carefully” to “serving the recreational needs of the public”.

Malraux believes that in the modern world, art is achieved through dialogue between works and styles. Conception of art in these days is more inclusive than ever, meaning that the scope of the dialogue is very broad, allowing us to compare paintings in Renaissance and with Chinese vases.

However, this inclusive concept of art also comes with its practical problems. Because the world of art is so vast, composed of so many individual pieces and styles, it is now impossible to even fit a small piece of art into a single museum space. Therefore, the ideal of art dialogue must occur in La Musée Imaginaire, which is a collection of all the major works of art are reflected in our imagination.

In the art world, “expansion” is commonplace. Since the essence of modern and contemporary art is “experiment”, artists themselves are fully aware of this expansion. Therefore, the art world is always forced to respond to the emerging new phenomena and cram them into the “art world”. Minimalism art can be said to be an exapmle. Today, we can completely watch the work of “safeguarding rights” of knowledge for minimalism art after the busy work of abstract expressionism art. This is the best proof of an “augmented” boundary.

But what’s interesting about the art world is that it’s a big world, and the way aesthetics works is a big world divided up into different little worlds by following the action of expanding the boundaries. The boundary and boundary compete with each other, and they have different aesthetic value standards and internal operation means. But boundaries are both fluid and collaborative. They not only compete for sources but also share resources. Their values can sometimes run completely counter to each other. But when it comes an external enemy (such as science), they form a temporary interpretive community and the boundaries become blur.


Benjamin, Walter and Michael W. Jennings. 2010. “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility [First Version].” Grey Room: 11-37.

Bohrer, Frederick N. 2002. “Photographic Perspectives: Photography and the Institutional Formation of Art History.” Art History and its Institutions: 246-259.

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

Sontag, Susan. 2001. On Photography. Vol. 48 Macmillan.