The Theories of Walter Benjamin and John Berger

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Walter Benjamin and John Berger are viewed as major theorists that have transformed how art is viewed in the contemporary society. Through their works; "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" and "Ways of Seeing", the theorists explain their views concerning art and how it has been changing over time. Benjamin centers his opinions on the shift in perception and its outcomes during the introduction of photography and film within the 20th century. The theorist seems to be more concerned about the changes in knowledge since the time humans started to exist. The way in which people view the visual work of art is constantly under transformation and the effects remain to be determined. The theorists are determined to point out a specific thing regarding the modern age. The theorists agree that recent developments in technology have had tremendous effects on artworks and it has changes the way art is viewed today.   

According to Benjamin, the chief impact of modernity is on the authenticity and originality of a work of art through mechanical production. On the other hand, John Berger has his own opinions about art and the world in general (Benjamin et al 24). A clear analysis of the book offers different ideas as well as invitations to view and comprehend the world in different ways. There is no clear line that differentiates what people see and know. A common aspect between the two theorists is that their works have a profound influence on the popular conception of visual image and art. The differences, as well as the sense of consensus between the two works, can only be established through a detailed analysis of the main ideas as indicated by each author. 

The fact that the two works were written at different points justifies why they have some aspects in commonalities as well as differences. Berger's work is characterized by a strategy of blending sensibility of Marxist and art theory while simultaneously observing small scenes, gestures, in addition to the incorporation of other works that developed earlier by other theorists talking about art and its transformation over years. Berger's arguments concerning art are based on his perception of "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" by Walter Benjamin. Berger creates a Marxist viewpoint on Benjamin's work especially through the way he describes the way in which scholars and the ruling class use art to manipulate members of the population. Berger believes that certain classes of scholars and rulers manipulate art, attribute a dishonest and artificial aura to original artworks as a strategy of safeguarding their morally wrong and oppressive social prominence. According to Berger, the attachment is also meant to revive and conserve the irrational devotion of original artworks that are threatened by the proliferation of photographic reproductions (Barger 11).

Benjamin’s, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" focuses majorly on the change in perception and the consequences in the wake of the arrival of photography and film in the 1900s. The uniqueness of Benjamin's work is deeply rooted in the fact that he describes the transformations that have occurred in art since existence of humankind. Benjamin underlines the impacts of technology on the works of art as a major transformation that has taken place at the start of innovation. Benjamin is concerned by the withering of the aura via the mechanical reproduction of art itself. According to Benjamin, aura stands for legitimacy and novelty of an artwork that has not been replicated. Walter Benjamin says,” To perceive the aura of an object we look at means to invest it with the ability to look at us in return” (Benjamin and Jennings 32).  The theorist differentiates a photograph and a painting by explaining that a painting is original while a photograph is not. A photograph is an image of another image but a painting remains unreservedly original. A painting has an exhibition value; with specific content within the piece and it is also original while a photograph has a cult value since its content is not original and it is reproduced from a painting. The sense of authenticity and originality deteriorates on film and reproducible art represents a historical shift that folks need to take notice even if they do not necessarily experience it. Benjamin equates the loss of aura to a loss of a remarkable authority in the artwork. Benjamin asserts that the elimination of authority from the original work of art deduces authority loss, nevertheless, in relation to mass consumption, the freedom is not inevitably dependent. Benjamin explains that a work of art is only functional when it has its sense of originality. Reproductions of artworks have consequences on the applicability of the work. The reproduction results in distraction and deception as a result of the loss of meaning.

Benjamin points out that in the reproduced works of art, authenticity and originality are dead and it is only existent in the mystical and unlikely space. In the creation of people's own myths, there is an artistic clarification of the images that can be reproduced, and there is a sequential world in which people do not actually partake. As people consume the objects, the objects consume them too because they affect they perceptions on various things including art. According to Benjamin, a distance from the aura is fundamental because the loss of originality and authenticity has the probability to open up manipulation of art. Across the essay, Benjamin clarifies that in the contemporary era of mechanical reproduction, the scrutiny of a screen, as well as the film itself, has transformed in such a manner that people no longer foresee films; the film reflects on what they think. An image that moves constantly within the incoherence of the physical seizure of viewing a moving image in movement affects the perception of the viewer. The reproducibility of images causes an augmentation of obedience concerning the movie itself (Benjamin and Jennings 17). The final assertion of the work is the assumption that across long periods of history, the mode of judgement of human sense changes along with the whole mode of existence of humankind. The way in which the human sense of awareness is organized and the means by which it is accomplished are reliant on historical circumstances and nature.

In John Berger's "Ways of Seeing", the assumptions are deeply rooted in the relationship between the way people see things and their knowledge and beliefs. The way people see and understand things is dependent on their knowledge and beliefs (Barger 13). A point of consensus between Benjamin and Berger is founded on their understanding of the difference between a painting and an image. Berger agrees with Benjamin's explanation that an image loses a sense of originality and authenticity because of the recreation and reproduction. The authors are also in agreement on the fact that visual art has undergone a dramatic transformation and that photograph has become the chief medium of visual art.

John Berger’s work explains the concept of art through focusing on specific aspects for instance, gender. He is sometimes described as a sexist because of his constant focus on gender through his explanations. The author describes a woman as an object of vision that is surveyed by men. Such a factor makes the work different from Benjamin’s work because he only talks about general changes in works of art rather than incorporating the use of women to explain his facts. Berger introduces the association between visual arts and politics and it is what forms his theoretical legacy for instance, explaining how politicians manipulate art to pursue their political ambitions. Berger asserts that appreciating artwork is an act of politics, perchance even a traditionally constructed course in a way that when and where people see something influences what they see. In the present times, people view artistry distinctively than they did in the past. The distinctiveness is based on the increasing innovation in works of art. The difference between Walter Benjamin’s theories and John Berger’s is that Benjamin seems to be more focused in the changes in art regarding the loss of aura. According to Benjamin, reproducing art through the new technology erodes the sense of originality and genuineness and it might also affect its applicability. He insists that aura is a crucial aspect although he does not establish a close connection between art and the real things that happen in the real world. On the other hand, Berger focuses on how knowledge affects how people see and comprehend things. Because of peoples’ past experience and knowledge of sexuality, women are viewed as sexual objects. He also alleges that people’s perceptions and experience make them fail to distinguish between nudity and nakedness. Unlike Benjamin, Berger’s work is focused on sure groups of visual materials like oil painting, the nude, and advertisement or publicity images.

The two theorists recognize the changes that have occurred in the visual arts since the renaissance period. The changes have affected how art is used in the contemporary society. Benjamin’s general point of focus is on the loss of aura through mechanical reproduction of art. Berger’s argument is mainly about the assumption that a person’s experience affects how he or she understands art. The theorists agree that recent developments in technology have had tremendous effects on artworks and it has changes the way art is viewed today.  



Works Cited

Benjamin, Walter, Howard Eiland, and Michael W. Jennings. Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings. Cambridge: Belknap, 2006. Print.

Benjamin, Walter, and Michael W. Jennings. "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility [First Version]." Grey Room

39 (2010): 11-37. Print.

Berger, John. Ways of Seeing: Based on the Bbc Television Series with John Berger. London: British Broadcasting Corp, 1972. Print.

August 01, 2023

Art Culture

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