Walter Benjamin’s groundbreaking essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction grounds Marxist theories about the relations of production in an examination of the effects of the rise of bourgeois economics on art. Benjamin examines how the value of art has changed with the rise of mechanical reproduction techniques that began with woodcut graphics.
In this essay Walter Benjamin says that the rise of easily reproducible artwork leads to the artwork losing its ritual meaning through the loss of its aura, or authenticity, and by doing so it attaches meaning to its exhibition value which is almost always co-opted for its use in political manipulation. Exhibition value, of course, means the value of being sold, of becoming a commodity, a product rather than a creation gains meaning strictly from its intrinsic artistic quality. Benjamin uses this essay to postulate his view that valuing art because of exhibition instead of ritual means that it begins to be based on another politics.
Art originated as works created in the service of rituals and these rituals gave art its value. With the rise of secular art, this ritual value was overtaken by the artwork's authenticity, or aura, which accounted for the sense of wonder with which a spectator beheld it.
With reproducibility, this aura has withered as it has become not only practically impossible but virtually meaningless to want to see the origina" print of a photograph or film. Without this significance of originality, the only value left for an artwork that can be mass reproduced is to reproduce it in as great amount of quantities as possible.
Removed along with the authenticity of an original artwork is the time a spectator spends contemplating it. Time for contemplation is lacking in massively reproduced film, allowing for greater distraction of the viewer, and allowing for easier political manip-ulation of him as well. The ability to create mass reproductions of artworks has stripped them of the cult value with which art began and has also transferred the reflective power of artwork that had consisted in its authenticity to manipulative power based upon its exhibitive value.