The Naysayers


Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and the critique of pop culture.

BY ALEX ROSS for The New Yorker

First, Benjamin introduces the concept of the “aura,” which he defines as the “here and now of the artwork—its unique existence in a particular place.” To know Leonardo or Rembrandt, one must be in a room with their paintings. Chartres exists only at Chartres. The journey toward art resembles a pilgrimage. The treasures of the canon have always been embedded in ritual, whether it is medieval dogma or the “art for art’s sake” theology of the nineteenth century. In the age of reproduction, however, aura decays. When copies compete with originals, and when new works are produced with technology in mind, the old values of “creativity and genius, eternal value and mystery” fall away. Far from lamenting this development, Benjamin hails it: “For the first time in world history, technological reproducibility emancipates the work of art from its parasitic subservience to ritual.”

Free of that velvet prison, art can assume a political role...
— Alex Ross for The New Yorker
ILLUSTRATION BY PATRICK BREMER / LEFT: ULLSTEIN BILD / AKG; RIGHT: IMAGNO / AKG

ILLUSTRATION BY PATRICK BREMER / LEFT: ULLSTEIN BILD / AKG; RIGHT: IMAGNO / AKG


read full article here