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Posted on June 14th, 2012, by

The epoch of industrialization and the modern post-industrial epoch are characterized by the rapid changes which affect all spheres of human life, including art. In the age of the mechanical and electronic reproduction of art the problem of the change of the nature of art arises. To put it more precisely, the use of new technologies opened ample opportunities for mechanical and electronic reproduction of art that made many unique works of art, created by the artists of the past, available to mass audience in the form of reproduction. Naturally, this fact evokes arguments that reproductions are different from the original works of art and, therefore, they change the nature of art. However, to solve the dilemma whether mechanical and electronic reproduction changes the nature of art or not, it is necessary to analyze what art actually is and what changes reproductions actually bring to art, namely whether it changes its nature or not.

First of all, it should be said that the technological progress is inevitable and it constantly improves the existing techniques and naturally art cannot remain unaffected by the impact of new technologies. At the same time, arguments concerning the change of the nature of art caused by the development of electronic and mechanical reproductions are inconsistent. In this regard it is possible to refer to the fact that reproductions or copies of works of art existed before the development of mechanical and electronic technologies of reproductions of objects of arts.

For instance Walter Benjamin (2005) argues that reproductions of works of art were made even at the Middle Ages, or else he indicates to the development of lithography which also stimulated the development of the creation of reproductions of works of art.

In fact, this means that it is impossible to speak about the change of the nature of art specifically under the impact of mechanical and electronic reproductions. As the matter of fact, even if one admits the fact that they do change art than it would be more logical to estimate that it is not mechanical and electronic reproductions that change the nature of art and deprive of its originality and its genuine message, but it is reproduction and copying of work of arts in principle that can change the nature of art. However, even this assumption is purely hypothetical.

In this respect, it is possible to remind that Walter Benjamin underlines the fact that nowadays works of art are received and valued on different planes (2005). To put it more precisely, he distinguishes two polar types with one, the accent is on the cult value; with the other, on the exhibition value of the work (Benjamin, 2005). In actuality, this means that there are works of art, which are original, genuine works, that are available only to a limited number of people and they often become a subject of cult. On the other hand, there is the exhibition value of the work that means the value of the work of art as a piece of art available to the audience. The latter is very important because apparently the exhibition value increases due to the development of the mechanical and electronic reproductions of works of art. As a result, these works become available to the mass audience.

In such a way, the development of new technologies leading to mechanical and electronic reproduction of works of art does not change the nature of art but it simply changes the medium by means of which the works of art are conveyed to the audience. The only change that occurred to art due to the mechanical and electronic reproduction is the fact that works of art became more available to the mass audience.

In order to better understand the fact that the nature of art has not changed in the result of the change of technologies or medium that leads to the creation of numerous mechanical and electronic reproductions, it is necessary to refer to works of Leo Tolstoy and his specific view on art and the audience. To put it more precisely, Leo Tolstoy suggests that the art should not be viewed as some exclusive activity or work which is destined to a limited number of people. As the matter of fact, art is not the manifestation of some mysterious idea of beauty or God; it is not a game in which man lets of his excess of stored-up energy but it is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity (Tolstoy 2006).

Consequently, it is obvious that art, in principle, is just a sort of communication between the artist and the audience and it is very important that they could maintain their ideological contact, i.e. they could properly understand the message encoded in the art work, while the medium apparently turns to be secondary since, if only the spectators or auditors are infected by the feelings which the author has felt, it is art (Tolstoy 2006). Obviously, such a view on art helps better understand the impact of mechanical and electronic reproduction of works of art on the nature of art. In fact, the idea that mechanical and electronic reproduction is just a new medium of conveying of works of art to the audience is unquestionable. At the same time, the change of medium does not necessarily lead to the change of the message of the work of art that means that mechanical and electronic reproduction still conveys the same feelings and emotions that the artist has had while creating this work. Consequently, as long as the audience and the artists have the same feelings, they understand the message of the work of art, this will remain the art that means that the nature of art also remains unchangeable.

At any rate, in historical terms, it would be a mistake to view mechanical and electronic reproductions as the cause of the change of the nature of art because they do not influence artists, while reproductions existed in all epochs and will exist in the future. This is why it is hardly possible that the art will be totally changed only because of the development of reproductions. In contrast, the mankind always needed original and interesting works which could be further reproduced and distributed among the large audience. In fact, without mechanical and electronic reproduction, as well as without any other form of reproduction, art would really change since it would become the art for art’s sake and not the art as the means of communication and interaction between people.

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