The Bunny Shot
When I was an undergrad studying art, I force-fed myself works by Walter Benjamin, Adorno, Foucault, and the rest of those lunatics. While this diet of nonsense was mostly nutrient free, it did lead me back to some truly interesting writings by Merleau-Ponty and Husserl. Generally, though, I always thought Benjamin et al were full of shit. I still think so.
The other day we went to my sister-in-law’s birthday party. I gave her a framed graphite drawing I did of a bunny.
It was a pretty good drawing—nothing fantastic, but good enough to elicit cracks about Photoshop and so on. And it made me think that Benjamin did have a point. One small point, buried inside what is usually translated as The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.
And the point?
In certain domains, human beings like things that are bespoke. And we look for indicia showing a work of art is bespoke rather than mechanically (not mass) produced.
Even if there is a large amount of post-production after the genuine human making activity takes place, the audience can tell. See, e.g., The Incredibles and compare it to one of the pieces of shit extruded by the Pixar epigones—such as Ice Age. Blech.
Benjamin called this an “aura” and suggested that one had to be in front of the actual work—say, the Mona Lisa—rather than a reproduction to get the true effect. I think that overstates it. A lot. But we are quite good, we human beings, at picking out the natural from the artificial merely by sight, in art and elsewhere.
For instance, boobs. It’s pretty obvious.
Natural things have some quality that we can recognize, and until that can be simulated convincingly, Benjamin will remain approximately correct, I think.