In the Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction Walter Benjamin, laments the loss of authenticity that comes with mechanical or technical reproduction of art. In his opinion, the “presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity.” Anything else is a forgery or essence-less reproduction. Authenticity, like reverence, is yet another subtle cultural value that we can all agree upon. Aura, the feeling of connection to the story, history and direct transmission of the artist, is indeed irreplaceable.
“From a photographic negative, one can make any number of prints; to ask for the “authentic” print makes no sense.” Benjamin makes the undeniable point that digital art can not be “authentic.” Nonetheless, does that negate it’s meaning?
I agree that mechanical reproduction of objects are lacking in substance and depth; yet, I think that there is more to art than just aura. There is the process and ritual for the artist creating it and there is the moment and experience for the viewer on observing it. Both the process and the moment are intangible - unlike objects, neither can be owned.
To me the power of art comes from those intangible moments. And I believe that there can be an authenticity of the purpose and process – detached from the material history of the object. A painting can be “owned” and hung on a wall – and although there is a sovereignty in knowing it is the original, is that really where its power comes from? The problem with Benjamin’s assertion of authenticity is that it is founded in the values of a materialistic culture.
What I think is most revolutionary about digital art is that by nature it is detached from the idea of possession and thus one “authentic” piece of art. Digital art forces us to let go of our attachment to the thing itself and focus on the making and the moment. If you ask anyone what they would rather lose in a fire – their beloved leather couch or their family photos, 99% of people would answer couch. It’s the moments that matter and that have value – a value purer than monetary or material.
A value that transcends time and space.