In his first essay of Ways of Seeing, John Berger claims that all power, authority, and meaning that was once held by an original work of art has been lost through the mass reproduction of these works that has occurred in recent years. He writes of an entirely bogus religiosity (116-117) that surrounds these art objects and that the meaning of the original work no longer lies in what it uniquely says but in what it uniquely is (117). He claims that because of reproduction, the art of the past no longer exists as it once did (127). Obviously, something created hundreds of years ago is not the same as it once was, but the distribution of art and music to the general public has had a positive effect on society rather than a negative one. Works of art have even more meaning than they had when first created through the interpretations offered them by generations of critics and artists. Fresh new sources have been given the ability to offer their insight and abilities into art, creating entire new genres of art, music, theatre, and the like. It has allowed for a truer search for knowledge than was ever possible before. And ultimately, the search to find the true meaning of art and of the ideas of the artists forms a true sense of religiosity, which gives passion and meaning to the lives of groups stretching far beyond the cultural elite.
An example that Berger uses to illustrate his points is that of a filmmaker who uses images in film. Berger states that Awhen a painting is put to use, its meaning is either modified or totally changed (120) and when a painting is reproduced by a film camera it inevitably becomes material for the film-maker’s argument (121). He concludes from this that only the original painting holds integrity while the image shown on film is an expression of the film-maker’s argument. However, this idea furthers the meaning of the painting by adding connotations to the one the artist intended. When an artist creates a painting, he or she hopes for this work to be critiqued and interpreted by others. These critiques and interpretations add to the full meaning of the work for everyone seeing it afterwards. Thus, we undermine the true meaning of the work by saying it can only mean what the artist originally meant it to, because this is something we can never know. The viewer should determine the value and meaning of each painting.
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...nable future of what we could have, and is empowered by envy. Ultimately, Berger claims that the sublime quality of art has been transformed into simple information through reproduction, when in reality; this type of culture has always been about information. Through reproduction, we can strive for a truer sense of information, in reaching the true meaning of art rather than using the information for a sign of status. It is no longer a matter just of knowing of art and culture; it is a matter of knowing about it. The available levels of information have increased, and have allowed more people to experience a true sense of religiosity toward art, music, and other culture than was ever previously possible. Rather than ruining the integrity and credibility of culture by offering it to the masses, it remains a symbol of status and power for those who wish to use it as such, and has become a source for passion and knowledge for others. It has also allowed new ideas and insight to these fields from non-traditional sources. Finally, instead of taking away from the meaning of original works of art, reproduction has added to it.
Berger, John. Ways of Knowing. New York: Penguin Inc. 1998
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