So like, one of the interesting things about seeing any famous painting in person is that these images, you know, their images are – especially in the age of the internet, are just everywhere, right? Like, the amount of times I’ve seen The Birth of Venus on t-shirts, online, in ads, in YouTube videos, in, you know, whatever. Same with Nighthawks, same with, you know, The Old Guitarist. You cannot escape many of the images of the world’s most famous paintings.
And, you know, just because I’m a philosophy major and I like to talk about this kind of thing, I was reading an essay, and to be fair I was reading it late at night and I don’t remember all of it and some of my knowledge of this essay, despite the fact that I’ve read it, is, like, summarized from YouTube videos. So I guess I’m not, you know – this is probably a bit of an under simplification. But I was reading an essay by the literary critic and philosopher, theologian, and whatever. He’s really all of those things, yet kind of none of them, but Walter Benjamin. He wrote this work called the “Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. In it, he kind of, you know, wrote that that art has, I guess, I think what he calls an aura. In other words, the fact that this image is existing in some kind of object, presents a kind of special effect to the viewer in that you kind of recognize kinda the physicality of the image and it’s uniqueness as that particular – the uniqueness of the image as that particular object, right? The Mona Lisa is the one and only one Mona Lisa. And yes, there may be copies, but there’s something, you know, historical and kind of physically present in the object that makes it, you know, unique. That’s the Mona Lisa.
That’s the – and he worried that in the age of mechanical reproduction, right? Where copies of these works are mass produced, and this is long before the internet too, that the art was a little bit in danger of being cheapened, of losing that aura, of losing that significance because – in large part, because of it’s the sudden lack of uniqueness, the lack of uniqueness of the image, right? But I think his concerns, I guess, may have been a bit overblown. Because I’ve seen the images of The Birth of Venus, I’ve seen Nighthawks. You know, not online and everywhere as I’ve said. But it did feel like there was… You know, when I looked at the paintings in person, I spent, like, a good minute and a half at least. Which is a lot of time, really, to be staring at a painting in a crowded museum, right? But I spent about a minute and a half at least staring at them, just taking it all in in a way I never do with artwork online. I think there is still something special in the physicality of a painting.