Saturday, October 1, 2011

CNTL+C, CNTL+V; OR ART IN THE AGE OF DIGITAL REPRODUCTION

I'm a bit of an idiot, but this whole world web thing seems to be changing the way that people view, understand, and relate to Art. The technological innovations and democratization of digital media have opened up PANDORA'S BOX!! AHHHHH HOLY SHIT STOP WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?!? YOU WEREN'T SUPPOSED TO OPEN THAT YOU MINDLESS HUSSEY CLOSE IT! CLOSE IT! interesting new avenues for artistic exploration, but inherent in the embracing of new technologies comes a shift in ideologies, for better or for worse. These changes are inevitable, and it is a mistake to adopt resistance to new paradigms ("Back in the old days, when men were real men and women never left the...." GOD GRAMPA SHUT UP!), it is equally dangerous to blindly embrace as positive by default. So this ramble is an exercise jazzercise in understanding the current state of the image as it relates to the object and the viewer. So shout out to muh boy dub. Benjameeeen, big shout out to Greeenburrrrrg, props to that french pimp ValĂ©ry, big ups to muh gurl Krauss! sheeah!

OK. Let's do this.

I
Two Hundred Million Pixels and Counting


Gabriel McGovern, 1k Mona Lisa (enlarged)

H fuckin D. While the human eye still has an edge on technology, it's only a matter of time before those hoity toity electric eyes can out see our ol' peepers. While the mechanisms at work in a camera and our eyes are different, it has been estimated that the human eye sees in about 576 megapixels. Hasselblad just released a camera that can shoot in 200 megapixels, which is probably 10 times the number of pixels that was top of the line 10 years ago. If the improvement of technology continues at the same rate, in another 10 years cameras will be able to capture images that are almost four times the resolution of our normal sight. 

The implication of this is pretty staggering. If image display technology also continues to get more refined (I don't understand what 1080p means other than H fucking D; you go figure that out if you're your curious), then the images we view would not just look real to us, but would be HYPER-F-N-REAL in a true sense; realer than we can possibly experience. 

But what does this mean for the art object? Back in the 30's, some damn commie socialist Democrat critic Walter Benjamin was concerned about how new technologies, at the time photography and film, would, through reproduction, sap the "aura" or "authenticity" of the art object. Benjamin felt that the act of reproducing an image removed the art object from it's historic and literal context, cheapening the full experience of witnessing something. Furthermore, the reproduced experience becomes the primary experience in the mind of the viewer, which cheapens the authenticity of the original artwork. (His essay "Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction", besides being the namesake of my essay "writing" is totally required reading. He also talks a bunch of commie bullshit addresses a lot of other important ideas about art that totally resonate today.)

While this anxiety about the loss of authenticity in art makes sense in the context of the early 20th century, when the mass media cultural machine was just in its infancy, I feel that his predictions were somewhat overstated. While it's true that the viewer's understanding of an original work has in many cases been hijacked by the mass produced image, I feel the opposite effect has occurred. 

Instead of the authenticity of the original being cheapened by mechanical reproduction, I think that mass distribution of the image actually increases the feeling of authenticity. Reproduction allows an art object to become well known and recognizable, in other words, famous (or infamous). This results in the fetishization of the original, in the same way a film star's everyday life (despite being in most respects the same as all of us other peons) becomes somehow more fascinating and worth our attention.


Take for instance the Mona Lisa. It's a painting you probably don't know by some italian guy you probably never heard of (shit I don't know any italians except for Vinnie, Pauly D, Ronnie, and the Sitch) But anywho, it's like, the most reproduced image everrrrrrrrrrrr


Wonna dem fukkin ninja toitles, Mona Lisa

Despite being so widely reproduced, the "aura" of this painting has not been compromised as Benjamin might have supposed. In fact, its fame has made it even more precious. 

The other flaw in Benjamin's logic is that mechanical reproduction "emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual".

A paraphrase of that dirty commie's Benjamin's point, is basically that art was born out of religious ritual and cult, greek gods, statues, blah blah, people revere, authenticity, blah, renaissance, with secularization, loss of religious significance, blah blah, make art for art's sake, cult of beauty, blah blah, theology of art, blah, no social function, blah, i'm a marxist, blah, art becomes designed for reproduction, blah, no authenticity, blah, politics. Read the original text if you can't speak paraphrase.

Benjamin believed that the cult of beauty/theology of art that had arisen to take the place of religious ritual in respect to the purpose of the art object would be destroyed by the technological innovations of photography and film. But people continued to make paintings just the same. People went out to art galleries all around the world just the same. Photo and film were integrated into art, instead of replacing it. I know I knock it all the time, but in this circumstance, thank god for pretentiousness. Without the snobby distinction between fine art and consumable media that allowed for the integration of select works in both photo and film, Benjamin might have been right.

Benjamin believed that the ability to see an object outside of it's context would remove the necessity of the ritual of going to see it, but perhaps the experience and ritual of seeing an object in person is much stronger than he might have expected. When you come back from Paris, you usually get two questions, "Didja see the Eiffel Towa?" and "Didja see the Mona Lisa?". Know what I'm sayin?

But this leads us back to megapixels. What if the experience of viewing a reproduction of an artwork exceeded the quality of viewing the actual object. The rate that technology is going, it seems likely that in my lifetime, I may be able to have a HD scan of the Mona Lisa, 500 megapixels, displayed in 3D, on  my plasma flatscreen above my fireplace. How would that compare to seeing it in person:



Sixteen feet away through a forest of tourists and bullet proof glass.....
In that case, wouldn't the reproduction be better than the real thing? At that high a resolution, I could zoom so far up Lisa's nose that she'd sneeze. And it's not like I can touch the actual painting either, so I'm just as well with the image.....

What would then be the draw to the actual object? If the reproduction is more than real, better than real, if the image quality surpasses the physiological limitations of my own body, doesn't it negate necessity of the original? As soon as there is a HD image that surpasses my ability to see it, is the digital data is just as good as the original, except that it has the capability to be infinitely reproduced and consumed, i.e. commodified?

But alas, these questions will have to be answered at a later date. Sorry to leave you with a cliff-hanger so to speak but this critical essay on the theory of art "writing" will have to be put on hold, as I must go consume alcohol in a manner that would not be considered responsible. It is Saturday after all. 

To Be Continued....

Dictated but not read.

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