Wednesday, April 06, 2005

What is a work of art?

What constitutes a work of art?
I don't know. The Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester England doesn't either - but they try to ask the question better, instead of simply answering it. What interests them is the question of authenticity (and originality) and its place in modern/contemporary art.

Aura and Authenticity is a collection of works that explore the concept of the originality and authorship of art.

The exhibition held at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester until February 2006, raises the issue of the legitimacy of an artwork and the very definition of the genre.

It asks whether a reproduction can maintain the aura of the originals, and whether it is that aura or the perceived value from the fame of the artist which gives the work its value.

Through print, painting, drawing and artefacts, Aura and Authenticity explores the different types of value within a gallery environment, attempting to dispel the myths about what constitutes a work of art.

The exhibition is based on the work of the philosopher Walter Benjamin, whose essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, questioned the value system of works of art in the light of new technology. Writing in 1936, he debated whether mechanically reproduced art can have aura even if the artist has never touched it.

(more about the exhibition : at the 24hourmuseum)

I get the impression that when art advances, some concentrate on the questions it left behind. What is the value of this? Maybe it is scarce, but then again, something quite new and surprizing could come out of analyzing Benjamin's interesting, but clearly historical and not contemporary, text and issues.


Brandon said...

I'm often annoyed by this topic. Not because I think it's unimportant, but because so often when a person questions whether or not something is art, what they really mean is whether or not it is good art.

However when it is taken seriously it is certainly and interesting topic. I'm particularly intrigued by the debate of mechanically created art. I am assuming that they are talking about a machine designed to completely create something, and not merely give the artist another method manipulation. I tend to think that it still would be art, as there is a creative process involved in designing a machine that can create.

A prime example is Raymond Scott ( He is primarily known as a jazz composer, but some of his lesser known accomplishments include a machine that creates sounds and rhythms and layers them on top of each other to make music. The artist is involved only in approving each sound layer before it is added. Scott was inspired to do this, partly because he believed that music is a mathematical art and should remain so. He strongly opposed improvization despite his jazz background. He came to the conclusion, that if music followed mathematical patterns, it shouldn't be difficult to build a calculating machine capable of creating its own music.

I think that the artistic theory that went into this combined with the act of creating it, and his creation of the machine and the rules it had to follow, make this machine's output the work of art that Scott intended it to be. Mechanically produced art still requires a creator to make the machine, and the creativity required to create such a machine makes said creator the artist.

Brandon said...

You know, I misread the article. They aren't talking about mechanically produced art. They are discussing mechanically reproduced art.

vvoi said...

your point is still strongly related the topic - mechanically produced works are also outside of what used to be considered art. benjamin in his essay announced the change - we were moving into the era of art that isn't directly created by the artist. says bejamin, in the mechanical era the work loses its "aura". because you can't link it directly to the person that made it, the connection becomes ambiguous.
the reproduction of art is just one example of this phenomenon. mechanically created art would be a broader term - and so you're on the spot. now, a mathematician will certainly say that a great mathematician will always be irreplaceable - he will think of things the machines couldn't dream of. namely, because they can't dream.


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