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Walter Benjamin: Technological Influence on the Aura and the Aesthetic Experience

Updated: Apr 25

Now I need you to recall and somewhat snapshot in your mind, if you will, a moment in time in this day and age where you were in front of breathtaking mountains, vigorous statues, intricate paintings or in other words, anything that emulates beauty and depth. Now pay close attention to me here: How many people do you recall that weren't essentially rushing tenaciously to take out their phones to capture the jaw dropping, and somewhat fleeting moment on camera while manifesting all their energy to get that “perfect” image, instead of savouring the moment? The answer to my question is probably slim to none. A good portion of people when met with a profound sight or scene are primed and conditioned to react in such a way that elbows in the mindset of needing to have this scene captured so they can “ Hold onto it forever and ever. But alas, the beauty of a thing sometimes lies in that it is indeed fleeting, thereby, encouraging you to harness its energy without a technological intermediary. The energy between you and the object will surely be enough to grasp all the omnipotent juices and hit not one, but many chords within.


With that being said, William Benjamin wholeheartedly believed that the subject/object relationship that is cultivated, hence, consolidated when existing palpably in space and time cannot ever be replaced with merely “capturing” it on a technological device. As a result, by succumbing to ill enticing technology, one would eradicate themselves from the “Aura of a Work of Art”. The Aura is nothing short of extraordinary. Indeed encompassing your tailored interpretation and reflection coupled with eclipsing the prevalent energy the object puts forth that paves the way for your version of this art to take shelter, whilst leaving a footprint in your neural pathways.


With the lived experiences of the Aura, comes somewhat of a perpetual distance. Contrary to popular belief, the distance one feels while interacting with another agent doesn't pull one apart from the object to say the least, it's actually allowing the aesthetic experience to come full circle while gracing you to use your own lens for deriving meaning from experience. That distance emanates all the time in the world for you to digest and register the inflow of feeling, emotion, and value. Consequently, because people are so afraid of this distance, they succumb to technological agents to rapidly capture every angle of an object while missing that harmonious unison between subject and object, in turn, putting a damper in the now void aesthetic experience.


Thus, the downside of technology arises with the advent of photography, stripping away the powerful process of calibrating our own reality, coupled with our own sensations taking the wheel, so to speak. Technology had a problem with that distance that was integral to the Aura, hence, it thought it would truncate the sublime process whilst eradicating the distance which resulted in the mass reproduction and distribution of copies of that now “Not so special” object anymore.


Let’s take the Mona Lisa for example, imagine that technology wasn’t a thorn in the process, and at that first glance of looking at the painting you feel this rush of emotion stretching from curiosity to anxiety all topped off with your sensations transcribing how this work of art imprints a bit of itself on you. Just ruminate for a second on that one of a kind experience. Unfortunately, it's short lived. Cue in the advent of photography, and now, with a click of a button, the photo of the Mona Lisa is vastly distributed to all ends of the Earth. Hence, the Aura, and this sublime process, is put to its demise. Because of the internet bombarding us with photos left and right of scenes we earnestly wanted to witness in person, that were once spectacular to us, are now in the category of “Meh” or lurking in the indifference facet of our brains, if you will. The phenomenon of the vast replication and wide distribution of photos stole the Aura, dubbing us as somewhat complacent to art and other objects. Hence, we more than often fail to experience that euphoric existence between subject and object in time and space, prevalent with serenity and tranquility .The thrill of seeing a Mona Lisa or a Van Gough is eroded to its core due to technology and its pivotal role it had to take the distance away from deriving true meaning from something. As a result, it has opened the doors for mass reproduction and distribution that we have all fallen ill to deploying.


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