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Art in the Age of Instagram

“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” – this is the title of an essay of cultural criticism by philosopher Walter Benjamin, written and published in 1935. It proposes that the aura of a work of art is devalued by mechanical reproduction, meaning that art can be considered less worthy and precious because of people being able to reproduce it. According to Benjamin, this changes art’s concept.

People visit museums for art - of course. But it is not only the desire to look at the exhibited art and admiring it – one of the reasons people of the 21st century to go to the museum is to capture the observed art and share it with others over social media. Especially photographic reproduction has caused major changes in the world of visual arts and the way we consume it. What would Walter Benjamin possibly say about the “age of Instagram”? Not only is it mechanical (photographic) reproduction of art, it is accessible worldwide, it is violating copyrights, it is plagiarism and the opportunity to let things go viral in no time. Certain exhibitions are now actually defined by their level of “instagrammability”. The main focus does not lie in exhibiting art itself, but exhibit it in a way that people want to share with the world.

Social media, especially Instagram, has become a huge, if not the biggest, force in the world of art. Artists, museums and galleries use the platform to make their art accessible to everyone. The MoMa, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, for instance, shares their exhibited art with 4,5Mio followers every day, the National Gallery in London reaches 1,2Mio people when posting one of their demonstrated works. By now the virtual world has a huge impact on the real-life-museum-world.

Instagram is for free, so why, as an artist, not independently advertise for your art and speak to the public by, well, publishing? It is one thing to do this with your own art, it is your own choice and “danger” to share this with the whole world – when you profit from it, it is because of your own work. But the internet is full of “mechanical reproductions” of other artists’ works. Does this make it less valuable? Is it bereaved of “aura”? The question of whether technology is harmful to the conception of art is nothing new. Even in such an early stage of technology and mechanical reproduction as in 1935, Walter Benjamin warned about the fear of cameras. He stated that it impedes your view of actually experiencing the object. The world is not the same through a lens and according to what most people admit: The reproduction just does not do justice to the real thing.

Capturing moments to keep them safe as memories does have its raison d'être. But looking at photos, years after the captured occasion happened, is supposed to bring back feelings you felt in that moment, and that feeling is not supposed to be “running through a museum with your smartphone in front of your face”. So, how about connecting both experiencing art in real life and keeping that experience safe in a photo after – but the next time you go through an exhibition, try to let go of the thought of how others might feel about this when you share it. Feel it yourself.

thomasstaub (Pixabay)

Posted in Artists, Creativity on Nov 08, 2019