Did Photography Change the Definition of Art?


Last Thursday in class, we discussed Walter Benjamin’s ideals from The Work of Art in Age of Mechanical Reproduction and how the conventions of Art were drastically changed by the emergence of Photography. I found it interesting to begin with when Benjamin discussed how an original work of art has an authentic value due to its “ritualistic” basis. He discusses that photography, however, is unable to produce an authentic print from the photographic negative. The incapability of having an “authentic” print through means of photography suddenly meant that it could no longer be considered a work of art. But how is photography not an art form? It has to be. Although different from a painter or sculptor, it still requires a degree of talent and skill.

“The instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is re- versed.”(Benjamin, 224)

That being said, we posed an interesting question in class around Benjamin’s ideology. Did photography change the definition of art?

I personally feel that it absolutely did. It not only brought different artistic styles within itself, but also progressed to produce more dynamic technologies such as film. In a way, Photography acted as an art form that served as a gateway to change the definition of art and what constitutes being an authentic “work of Art.” Similar to how Photography changed the ideals of Art, the telegram dynamically changed means of communication. As a brilliant new piece of technology, the telegram served as the catalyst to the progression of new media in the same way that photography was able to progress the conventions of Art.

Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations, “The Work of Art in Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. 1st. New York: Shocken Books, 1968. 217-264. Print.

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