Dada vs. Walter Benjamin: What Value Does Dada Have in Context of Walter Benjamins the Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction?

Topics: Dada, Art, Modernism Pages: 9 (3093 words) Published: October 29, 2012
Unit 7.
Dada Vs. Walter Benjamin:
What value does Dada have in context of Walter Benjamins The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction? -------------------------------------------------
Martin Hannon
Martin Newth
B.A. Photography, Year 2.


I have often been attracted to both the visual aesthetic, critical standpoint and to some extent the theory of artists Hannah Hoch and Kurt Schwitters, members of Dada; the multi-disciplinarian art movement of early 20th century Europe. So much so, that I was intrigued to find the following description of their practice whilst reading an essay concerning the nature of art in the modern world by Walter Benjamin: -------------------------------------------------

‘Their poems are “word salad” containing obscenities and every imaginable waste product of language. The same is true of their paintings, on which they mounted buttons and tickets. What they intended and achieved was a relentless destruction of the aura of their creations, which they branded as reproductions with the very means of production.’ -------------------------------------------------

(Benjamin, W., 1936)
As we can quite plainly see from the above quotation, Benjamins view on Dada would seem one of dislike. What was it he disliked about Dada? Was he right? And are the two as different as we might first imagine? -------------------------------------------------

To solve these intriguing questions, we need to understand exactly what it is that Mr. Benjamin refers to by the term ‘aura’; their relentless destruction of which, he credits as the cause of their art being ‘so barbaric’. To do this, we shall need to examine Dada in context of his essay – The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. -------------------------------------------------

Benjamin uses his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mehcanical Reproduction to posits his theory that before the technological developments that signified the age of mechanical reproduction (photography and film/cinema), artistic reproductions could only be made as copies of an original artwork: The original being genuine, and that copies lack the genuineness and authority of that original and cannot recapture the originals history, authenticity ritual and exhibition values (a quality he dubs ‘aura’), and that photographic technology disrupted this relationship to be turned on its head: -------------------------------------------------

‘The reproduced work of art is to an ever increasing extent the reproduction of a work of art designed for reproducibility. From a photographic print, for instance, many prints can be made; the question of the genuine print has no meaning.’ (Benjamin, W., 1936) -------------------------------------------------

The mechanical reproduction of art in the form of film brings it to the control and gaze of the mass audience. This leads to the disruption of the aura because the artwork is freed from its time and place. There is no history or authenticity of these mechanical reproductions. He does however go on to say that the absence of aura has made art more accessible (due to increased portability) to the masses, and perhaps more significantly, given room for politics to be the subject of works of art: -------------------------------------------------

‘However, the instant the criterion of genuineness in art production failed, the entire social function of art underwent an upheaval. Rather than being underpinned ritual, it came to be underpinned by a different practice: politics.’ (Benjamin, W., 1936)...

Bibliography: Books
Benjamin, W. (1936), The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Penguin
Dachy, M. (2006), Dada, The Revolt of Art. Thames & Hudson
Shiner, L. (2003) The Invention of Art: A Cultural History. University of Chicago Press
Tsara, T. Quoted in Beitchman, P. (1988) "Symbolism in the Streets", in I Am a Process with No Subject. University of Florida Press
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