The Work of Art in Mechanical Reproduction
In Principle a work of art has always been reproducible. Man-made artifacts could always be imitated by men. Replicas were made by pupils in practice of their craft, by masters for diffusing their works, and, finally, by third parties in the pursuit of gain. Mechanical reproduction of a work of art, however, represents something new. Historically, it advanced intermittently and in leaps at long intervals, but with accelerated intensity. The Greeks knew only tow procedures of technically reproducing works of art: founding and stamping. Bronzes, terra cottas, and coins were the only art works which they could produce in quantity. All others were unique and could not be mechanically reproduced. With the woodcut graphic art became mechanically reproducible for the first time, long before script became reproducible by print. The enormous changes which printing, the mechanical reproduction of writing, has brought about in literature are a familiar story. However, within the phenomenon which we are here examining from the perspective of world history, print is merely a special, though particularly important, case. During the Middle Ages engraving and etching were added to the woodcut; at the beginning of the nineteenth century lithography made its appearance. With lithography the technique of reproduction reached an essentially new stage. This much more direct process was distinguished by the tracing of the design on a stone rather than its incision on a block of wood or its etching on a copperplate and permitted graphic art for the first time to put its products on the market, not only in large numbers as hitherto, but also in daily changing forms. Lithography enabled graphic art to illustrate everyday life, and it began to keep pace with printing. But only a few decades after its invention, lithography was surpassed by photography. For the first time in the process of pictorial reproduction, photography freed the hand of the most important artistic functions which henceforth devolved only upon the eye looking into a lens. Since the eye perceives more swiftly than the land can draw, the process of pictorial reproduction was accelerated so enormously that it could keep pace with speech. A film operator shooting a scene in the studio captures the images at the speed of an actor’s speech. Just as lithography virtually implied the illustrated newspaper, so did photography foreshadow the sound film. The technical reproduction of sound was tackled at the end of the last century. These convergent endeavors made predictable a situation which Paul Valery pointed up in this sentence:
“Just as water, gas, and electricity are brought into our houses from far off to satisfy our needs in response to a minimal effort, so we shall be supplied with visual or auditory images, which will appear and disappear at a simple movement of the hand, hardly more than a sign.”
Around 1900 technical reproduction had reached a standard that not only permitted it to reproduce all transmitted works of art and thus to cause the most profound change in their impact upon the public; it also had captured a place of its own among the artistic processes. For the study of this standard nothing is more revealing than the nature of the repercussions that these two different manifestations – the reproduction of works of art and the art of the film – have had in its traditional form.
Work of art can be recreated and has always been done through imitation. Pupils are able to make exact copies of arts so that they practice their craft either to spread their works or for the pursuant of profits. Mechanical reproduction created a new stage in reproduction. As new technology emerges, the production of art increased with intensity. Two procedures of reproducing technically among the Greeks were founding and stamping producing coins, bronzes and terra cottas. Mechanical reproduction brought changes to printing. Engraving and etching were added to wood cut. Lithography which allows volumes of documents to be printed was effective. Later, designs were traced on stone rather than on wood. Photography took over from lithography and pictures were used. It has been able to place the image in a way that would allows for the original image to be seen clearer. This lessened the work of artists. Mechanical reproduction has enabled sound to be introduced. According to Paul Valery, visual and auditory image were understood more clearly and technical reproduction is now able to ‘stand on its own’.
I have chosen this passage because it has helped me to see the improvements that have been made in reproduction. The new technologies that were introduced have led to increase speed in production especially in the printing and film industries. My knowledge of mechanical reproduction has increased as it enables me to see why literature is so quickly distributed. All as a result of mechanical reproduction