Category Archives: Week 10

Reproduction and Extension of ideas

Benjamin (2003) mentioned in his article, that under a technologically advanced society of reproduction, artworks are gradually losing their “aura” that represents their uniqueness as well as importance. However, is that really a bad thing? Does that mean depriving the “divine power” of Art would inflict detrimental effect on the world of art? In my opinion, reproduction may not always be bad. With the development of digital media such as the internet, people in contemporary society are thus empowered to gain better access to all information, as well as engage in the process of reproduction themselves.

In popular culture communities, fans usually record anime, TV drama, or even scan manga for, reproduction. They then distribute their reproduced materials through the internet through ways like the peer to peer distribution networks. In this way, fans engaged in a participatory culture that makes themselves prosumers, meaning that they are both producers and consumers of culture. To the media industry, there are surely legal issues related to these fan activities, as they are hindering legitimate industry economy and infringing their original copyright. However, fan’s effort on distribution is, in fact, silent promotions to the industry as their products are reaching out to more people who may never get in touch with these media cultures before. The media industry, in return, gained extra attention from the public and receive and sometimes even received a boost to their sells.

Photographic Reproduction in fine art actually faces a similar situation as those in popular culture communities. In fact, photo reproductions of fine art pieces do not reduce the value of the original piece. In fact, they are the spiritual extension as well as a cultural vessel that could become easily accessed by the general public for appreciation and education. Since everyone may have their own ways of perceiving art, their perception may then add up to the pool of art knowledge that offers people more interpretations and more ways of interfacing art materials. Mass reproduction gives the art world a unique opportunity to enlarge their “market,” not from professional artists, but from the public as a whole.



Bohrer, Frederick. “PhotographicPerspectives: Photography and the Institutional Formation of Art History.” In Art History and Its Institutions: Foundations of a Discipline, edited by Elizabeth Mansfield. London; New York: Routledge, 2002.

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

Week 10: Mass Production; Good or Bad?

Something that has always been of intrigue to me is when I see people taking photographs of artwork or even of other photographs, be that in a museum or gallery. I never really understood the very point of taking a picture of a picture, except to have it on your phone to show for social media. Another intriguing thing is when you google an artwork and can automatically have thousands of copies of the image right at your fingertips. Mass media has both fed and starved the art world in a way that we haven’t seen before. You could never make it to the Louvre and yet you could fully study the history, artistic style, and everything about it, without ever coming close to touching or seeing the real thing.

This can be a positive thing, as it gives many people the chance to see things they might never have the opportunity to see. However, with a reproduction, you can’t learn about the painting style, the colors, even the brush strokes, because usually what your seeing is a digitally reprinted thing that has been pixelated and saturated, loosing a lot of its original mystique. Something that Mansfield speaks about is the “meditation” on a piece. In order to get the full affect, one has to look at the original. There is something to be said about meditating on the true work itself, as well as its placement within a museum, allowing the audience to notice certain things that they would most certainly not receive when looking at a digitally transported image on a reproduction.

Another interesting aspect of art and meditation is the placement within the artistic realm in which it is placed. I used to think that when I walked into a museum, different art works were just thrown up on the wall, and didn’t necessarily think that there was a thought process, mindset, and reason for placing certain works near others. In one of the readings on Malraux, possibly the first creator of the idea of a museum, this idea that there is a specific reason for placing certain artworks near each other. This came more to light in our visit to the Philips Collection, where we saw various pieces playing off each other in order to give the visitor a more of an immersive experience. By just Googling a photo or seeing it out of its specifically chosen place definitely affects how it is viewed and understood more complexly.

I think it is incredibly interesting to think about how art digitization will progress. Museums, in my opinion are crucial to understanding originals, and reproductions, while they offer the ability for everyone not just a certain group of people to see the art, I think that by not acknowledging where and how a piece is seen takes a lot out of the viewers immersive experience. Digital museums could be of interest for a situation like this. Albeit these pictures will still prevent the watcher from truly seeing all of the qualities of the original artwork, but can lead to further understanding and learning within the realm of art history, and encourage people to visit the real life artwork, rather than Googling the reproduction.



Embrace the mediation

The relationship between photography and Arts has always been multiple, even though we ignore the fact that some photographs are actually belong to Art. Starting as a technology which can record the visual world realistic and objective (Bohrer, 247), photography comes into artists’ world both as an assistant in real-world reference and a competitor which threaten their position. The portrait, the scene, which could had been only recorded by painting, could be recorded more vividly by photo. However, when the object of photography started to turn into the artworks themselves, photography became an interface. For the insider of the Art world, photography serves as strong power helping constructing a system, or an index. It enables the term “musée imaginaire”, since the collections and the site transcends the limitation of space.

As in the topic of interaction between art and public, the role of photography come into controversy. The limitation of photography is clearly showed during our several field trips. Even we have already previewed the work online, we still were impressed by the size, the brushstroke and the light setting of the artwork, which is hard to be conveyed by the photo. As for Benjamin, the absent of such experience was expressed as the decay of “aura”. The famous term indicates the precious experience existing in a unique relationship between the subject and the object. It lies in the space and time. The moment a person approaching to the original object and the changing distance between the subject and object are where “aura” generated from. Another shift emerged subsequently: with the developing techniques of reproduction of the art works, the exhibition value was magnified while the cult value withered.

However, we should recognize the fact that photography has never been the only way of “reproduction”. And all the methods aimed at shorten the distance between public and fine art. In the meta painting, paintings reappear in the form of tokens through artists’ work. When Morse created the meta painting of collections in Louvre, he was trying to introduced the treasure of human civilization and educated his citizens. Also, thanks to techniques like smelting and lithography, the reproduction of art works has always been possible in history. The emergence of photography was an epochal advancement just because of the abundant and prompt distribution. Like the “disenchantment” of religion, photography is the disenchantment of fine art. The essence of photography as an interface is the extension of museum’s spirit: revolutionaries opened Louvre and turned it into museum, set the artwork free to the citizens; photography breaks the limitation of space, give audience a chance to see the painting. From museum to traditional photography, to snap shot and VR, the new interface between audience and Art all carry the same functions. Inevitably, with the boundary was smashed again, the audience was burred with the consumer, and the artworks is not sacred as it is. But the mass reproduction give a chance, enlarging the influence of artworks unprecedentedly, through making it into a symbolic which can be turn into commodity in this fetish society. The mass reproduction, on one side, coordinated with public’s willing of occupy and shorten the distance. On the other side, it is the reason for the influence of Art nowadays. If public’s interaction with fine art through photography, and other new media nowadays is only a qualified experience rather than extraordinary one, then without them, the experience may even not exist.


Bohrer, Frederick. “Photographic Perspectives: Photography and the Institutional Formation of Art History.” In Art History and Its Institutions: Foundations of a Discipline, edited by Elizabeth Mansfield. London; New York: Routledge, 2002.

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

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

New media- inside or outside the museums

The media of conveying arts is mass. When I studied advertising, I remember one of the features of advertising was its artistic value. When I read technology articles in the magazine, I saw writers described MacBook as an artwork. When I saw the English version of a Chinese military treatise, it was translated as The Art of War, which is totally different from the book’s original name. In advertising, by combing the core idea of the product with mv or posters, adman uses those art form to persuade and please customers “to take pleasure in the act of mediation” (Jay David Bolter &Richard Grusin, 2000). In the magazine, authors regarded the MacBook as art because the laptop was well designed both aesthetically and technically. In the translating of The Art of War, the translator expressed his understanding and appreciation of the book and hope to show the meaning and value of the ancient military strategies. It seems that when people talk about art, the word “art” could cover anything, and art is much more than aesthetics or historical value, but anything presenting a meaning, or an impressive feeling can be viewed as “art” or the media or art. Art is everywhere, and it can adapt to many kinds of mediation.

Put art in the perspective of art and art history, the meaning of “artwork” and the media of arts might be much more serious, and the artworks require a special context to frame their meaning and value. Museums’ space has institutional functions for appreciating the artworks. They offer timeline, interpretation, creating space for retaining the original or historical state of artworks, and reproducing the environment or atmosphere to show the meaning of artworks. As new media began to reproduce the artworks from 3D to 2D, the mediation of artworks changed, and the context for housing the artworks changed from spatial environment digital and online environment. I want to discuss the new media outside and inside the museum, which have different meanings to both the artworks and the public.

For new media outside the museum, the discussion is based on whether the media is used for mass education or popularization. For mass education, here comes to the same question: “How the mass-mediated images serve the museum function?” (Martin Irvine) Today’s technology still not able to imitate the whole function of the physical museum. Even though the database of digital collections of the museums provides part of the copy of artworks, the presence of the artworks is still limited by the technologies, it is hard to copy the brushstroke or frame or details that could only be viewed under the light. However, when talked about popularization, things become different. No matter the metapainting of Mores'(Martin Irvine) or the education idea of museums (Edward P. Alexander &Mary Alexander), a museum is not only the place for showing wealthy or collections but has the function for mass education. In my perspective, new media came in this process and enrich the environment of popularization and offered much easier access to museums’ functions of mass education. For example, VAN GOGH ALIVE, a multi-sensory exhibition about artworks of Van Gogh, shows more than 3,000 images but has no real artwork of Van Gogh. This is indeed a process of producing a new media art instead of copying or replicating the original artworks, and even though set in a large space, the exhibition itself cannot replace the museum meaning or imitate the educational function of physical museums, while the exhibition set easier access for the public to appreciate Van Gogh’s artworks by using multi-sensory techniques to attract the public and popularize the art.


For the new media inside the museum, new media itself become part of the museum, it also works with mediational function. Lots of museums combine space with new media reproduction. Space is unmovable and still, while, the new media can show the visitors with videos or textual interpretations, fulfilling the multi-sense experience as well as giving more information about the artworks. For example, one of my favorite combination of new media and museum space is the smart guide of Casa Batlló. Since Gaudi used animals as prototypes for the decorations and furniture in Casa Batlló, the smart guide show which elements in the building are designed by referring animals and how to recognize the shape and how to appreciate the flow of design of the building.



Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000.

Bohrer, Frederick. “PhotographicPerspectives: Photography and the Institutional Formation of Art History.” In Art History and Its Institutions: Foundations of a Discipline, edited by Elizabeth Mansfield. London; New York: Routledge, 2002.

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

Edward P. Alexander and Mary Alexander, Museums in Motion: An Introduction to the History and Functions of Museums, Second Edition (Mountain Creek, CA; London, UK: Altamira Press, 2007).


Casa Batlló:


The best lens to shoot artworks

I still remember the final project of the art history class which I took in my freshman year in college: everyone was supposed to go to The Met and pick one painting, sit there and look at it for a good three hours, go home, then write a 20-page report on it. No documentation through photographing was allowed–but by the time that three hours had passed, you should have “internalized” the painting so photographs wouldn’t be necessary anyway. I don’t remember if I actually obeyed the rule or not, but I did type down most of the report at a Greek restaurant right off the corner of the 82nd and Madison–not only I wanted to capture my thoughts instantly, also I had little faith in my fleeting memory that I was so afraid of any erosion happening to whatever I just “internalized” might cost me an A.

Now the question is: if I indeed photographed the artwork, did I still need to sit in front of the painting for three hours instead of looking closely at the pictures I had taken while lying on a much more comfortable couch?  Not sure. But why would anyone visit the museums if photographs are becoming the only vessel through which people experience and interact with art? Yes, there is distortion or omittance of details by photographs, but there is something else irreplaceable about looking at art in person–the authenticity that cannot be transmitted through photocopies, the emotional connections that you can only establish with your surroundings, the tingling sensation that touches your heart because now you get to see the full story of this particular artwork’s creation and life–the best lens to capture artworks is always your eyes.

I am by no means discrediting the necessity of photographing artworks. After all, it made art much more accessible for people living in remote areas, and it certainly made it much easier for researchers to compare and analyze artworks ranging from different geographical locations and time periods. As we digitally enhance so much of our lives, a variety of remediation of artworks has become art as well–some artists even made their art specifically intended to be displayed on photos and websites. As the line between digital and in-person experience is becoming ever more blurry, the way we interact with artworks is bound to change.


Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000.

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

The Art Has a Lineage

When André Malraux introduces the idea of museum without wall to present art work, a new way to present all forms of cultural expression in an interface emerges. His idea basically is organizing the presence of art works in the way of combing culture and history related to the pieces. The art works which share similar cultural background or are created in the same period will considerately be presented together. This idea comes from the way of showing photograph (Irvine).

Many artists and intellectuals later follow the path of André Malraux on developing the “Museum Idea”. For example, a new academic subject, art history, comes out because of the idea. Art history, as “cultural encyclopedia”, shows people interdisciplinary knowledge, such as art, history and sociology. Art students no longer only studying how to draw the painting. Instead, they need to study art history to know more about art and how the different forms of art work with social products: culture, history and etc. Heinrich Wölfflin is one of the professors embracing the museum idea with his slide lecture, according to Bohrer, Frederick. Since schools, lectures can be the interfaces allowing lecturers, students and information to interact, the museum idea, in some sense, gives the art a new place to express itself in the art history way.

Gallery of the Louvre, 1831-33, Samuel Morse

At the same time, meta-painting, a special form of art also reflects the museum idea and the idea of cultural encyclopedia. A painting contains many other famous paintings, like a piece of art museum, which is a new way to let people express art. David Teniers, Johann Zoffany, and Samuel Morse are all have worked on meta-painting.

A screenshot of searching Gallery of the Louvre

Now is the digital age. We car clearly find some hierarchy or similarity between the website searching and the museum idea. Since searching engine can be a way to express art and an interface. When typing the name of a piece of art work, the results will not only show the picture of the art work but will also list the relevant information about the art work, such as background introduction and critics. It is quite fascinating that a theory influences the development of mediation, the expression of art and other related stuff in many decades. And we can certainly assume that it will continue to have influential power in the future.

Mediation is Necessary

As a past student of art history, I’ve spent countless hours staring at projectors, looking at textbooks, and my own computer screen to complete research. I cannot fathom completing this research without the aids of photographic reproductions. During undergrad, the students in the art history track were encouraged to reference the actual artwork when possible. The reasoning is obvious, but the professors always commented that photographs are lackluster representations of what we were studying; that a photo distorts color, scale, surface textures, lighting, etc. Looking back, I find the perspectives of the professors to be ironic (Mansfield 252). We were told to not solely rely on photographic representations of an object, but that is the only format that was available. 

Photography is the rise and limitation of the art history field. Without this mediation, the world wouldn’t know the connections between certain works of art or the differences in technique for artworks completed during the same periods, but in different locations (Mansfield 249). Personally, I wouldn’t have been able to complete my research effectively last semester if I had to keep returning to the National Gallery of Art and the Hirshhorn to look at the artworks I was analyzing. However, photos provide a dissociative context of the object or artifact. With this mediation, care has to be taken to ensure that an object is never “reduced to reproductions” (Irvine 3).

I have found that many museums are thoughtful to prevent object reproductions from losing their context. The Smithsonian Museums, for example, are undergoing a mass digitization process at the moment. Currently, the smallest museums have their entire collections online and available for visitor use, complete with metadata, tags, and tombstone information. Digitization of objects has allowed our cultures to be presented in frameworks we couldn’t have imagined before. New interfaces and connections are able to be discovered, all because of photography.

“While previously mistress (as in the earlier personal and often unacknowledged use of photographs for research), photography became proper wife and mother of a discipline” (Mansfield 249).”



Mansfield, Elizabeth. Art History and Its Institutions: The Nineteenth Century. 1st ed., Routledge, 2005. Crossref, doi:10.4324/9780203995099.

Irvine, Martin. Malraux and the Musée Imaginaire: Interfaces for Art History: Photographic Reproductions and Mediating Institutions. 

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.