It is a cliché to talk about calligraphers losing their jobs as soon as the printing press was invented. I suppose they mourned the loss of their art. Except that new art was formed. The advent of the printed word changed everything almost immediately.
Walter Benjamin wrote The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. I am not saying read it. It is a CRAZY difficult little essay to read. I am not kidding when I say I had to read each sentence three times before I could move on to the next one. AND I found it pretentious.
But it exploded my brain. What possible measuring stick can we use for art when it is all mechanical, or digital? What does it mean to spread the elusive epiphanic beauty of art all over the planet by mechanical reproduction? Because we are already doing it.
I dare to say, this very message is an example of that. I’ll name it: the Wonderblog is art. And I am disseminating it mechanically-digitally all over the world.
It used to be that art was exclusive. The beautiful Book of Kells, with words drawn so beautifully and artfully angels were given the credit for creation.
There is one Book of Kells. I have seen it. It is in a museum, behind glass, and it is open to one place that day. If I wanted to see the next page, I have to wait and come back after they have turned the page behind the glass for the day.
Except, there are now facsimiles. I have pored over the reproduction in detail. It is not the same as the original. But I can touch it and see it in a way the original does not allow.
Which means I can use it intelligently as a metaphor for this other bit of art, this blog.
Benjamin says that art in the age of reproduction means a transformative availability. As in, with so much thought-provoking and inspiring art so widely available, we must all be changed.
I have had that discussion, “Is this art, the kind that is popular and widely available, good art? Is it as high quality as the more difficult, less accessible art?” and it’s a fine discussion. But Benjamin points out something else entirely, which I had not thought about. If my belief that art changes us is true, that has consequences If art changes us and makes us better human beings, then the wide availability of lots of art will change lots of people.
Are you ready for us all to evolve again? Because we are tipping off the point.