Understanding Visual Culture- Part 2- The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction

This section focussed on articles written by Walter Benjamin and John Berger.

Once we had read the two articles we had to answer some questions regarding them. I also watched the first episode of Ways of Seeing 

Do you find John Berger’s case convincing?

In order to get a better understanding of John Berger’s article I decided to watch the first episode of Ways of Seeing. I found by watching it, it really helped to bring the article to life and with the examples given it helps to highlight how images can be viewed and interpreted differently.

Berger talks of how art experts, who provide text in art books, appear to write in a way that makes it seem as though they don’t want us to make sense of the art in our own terms and create often meaningless generalisations and mystifications of the art. To a less qualified person it may make them feel that a painting etc must be important as they cannot fully understand it. He then talks of how children are forced to accept these mystifications but when he showed a group of children a painting by Caravaggio, they related the image to themselves to try to understand what was happening.

He also discussed how a painting is very still and soundless which can help us to form our own views on the painting and help us to understand it’s meaning. However when words and music are added they can be manipulated so the meanings of them can be altered. To illustrate this, he showed an image by Picasso31 Cornfield and Crows





He asked us to look at the image in silence so we could form our own opinions of it and then he told us that it was the last painting Picasso painted before killing himself and played sobering music. By doing this, it makes the image feel quite sad and makes you wonder how the painter must have been feeling when he painted it.

What I liked most about the programme was towards the end, where Berger explains that he is putting his opinion forward yet is asking the viewer to be sceptical and to create our own opinions based on what he is discussing.

In conclusion, I do find his case convincing. His suggestion that “experts” can alter our perceptions of art just by adding meaningless generalisations or a particular type of music is intriguing. However, if an image was just left still and soundless we could form our own opinions. This is not to say either opinion is right or wrong, but we should look at art as children would and try to relate it to ourselves. Sometimes when other types of media are presented alongside a particular piece it can compliment the piece and assist the viewer.

Do you think that a work of art removed from its original site grows or diminishes in meaning?

Initially, my thoughts were that if it is removed or replicated, a work of art would grow in meaning as art is meant to be appreciated thus by replicating it and making it more accessible to people, more people can see it and appreciate it and perhaps learn from it. After watching the programme, I still felt this way, however I also saw how the meanings could be diminished as people can see art anywhere and everywhere, at the touch of a button, in books and on television. Most people would also not mind whether the image is an original or not. This leads onto the next question. By removing the image from its original site, the uniqueness of the artwork and the place in which it is kept is also lost.

Does familiarity breed contempt?

I guess in a way it does.

We are so used to being able to look at things at the click of the button that images could lose their appeal and mystic. In a time where people want things right here, right now, the potential excitement of planning a trip to an art gallery is beginning to lose its appeal. We take it for granted that we can do things right away that there is less of a need to visit galleries etc.

Has Benjamin’s “aura” been removed by the postcard?

To a degree, I feel it has as they are not the way the artist intended the painting or art work to be viewed. With some paintings being so large, shrinking them down to postcard size, you lose the image’s magnificence and impressiveness. It also takes away from the uniqueness of the original work.



About kunsworthphotography

I am currently studying towards a BA (Hons) in Photography with OCA and I have 2 children, Evie(4 years old) and Connor(3 years old)
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