Appropriation and Remix Culture in our Technological Times

Mechanical reproduction techniques have taken theatre and condensed it into a frame as big as your television screen. It was the most obvious and natural transition, I think, to have some of the first films based on great works of theatre (Walter Benjamin mentions A Midsummer’s Night Dream). Benjamin discusses the ways which theatre is different than film, even though both deal with the same core aspects (storyline, actors, change of time). He attributes this change to the way that art has become more technologically inclined, and the way culture has found different mediums to express the same “pure” art.

He talks about the fact that in theatre, there is audience, and that the actors have to deal with the fourth wall in an environment where there is an immediate response form the audience, whereas in film, the acting is done directly to camera. He talks about the concept of time and space, and how in theatre this is achieved by set and lighting design, whereas in film this is made possible with different camera angles, and post-production techniques.

He does, however, say that this new “mechanical reproduction” is estranged, that film is impersonal, and the new techniques that are used in film “render superficial and insignificant any possible similarity between a scene in the studio and one on the stage.”

Seeing as this is written in 1935, where cinema was still new and flourishing, it is understandable that his views are not consistent with the views on cinema now. Even though cinema was originally based on theatre, they are both different art forms. I guess it will just take time for “new plagiaristic remixes” to become new legitimate art forms.


So… There were two articles in the “Files” section of the blog. I replied to both of them, but I’m not even sure if I was supposed to do that. Oh well, here were my thoughts on both of them:

Response to “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”
by: Walter Benjamin (1935)

The very first paragraph in this essay consisted of a quote which made me conceptualize what the purpose of art is when it stands in the present moment, and also as a factor for anticipating, or predicting the future state of the world. ”Cannot remain unaffected by our modern knowledge and power” (1). Art making is a part of the current moment, the only way it can advance is if we embrace the new art movements. The world moves through art phases as it has in the past. When the ancient Roman’s began building their empire, artists and architects were ambitious to create structures that could defy any previous civilization’s. Actually, the Romans are a good example in presenting this concept of “remix culture”, as their foundation for all their knowledge of sculpting, painting, and building derived from ancient Greece. The structure of the Roman temple Pantheon used many of the same elements that the Greek temple Parthenon had. Innovation, based on the desire to make something different, or more complex then it ever was originally designed to be.

On the second page of this article, a bold yet thought provoking statement caught my attention, it read “The eye perceives more swiftly than the hand can draw” (2). This way of looking at photography, makes it seem as if photography as a single medium can act as a more accurate, precise capturing method of a vision rather than taking the time, perhaps weeks or months, to create the image or vision by singly illustrating it. Not to say there are many elements that can be represented in a painting, that can’t necessarily be taken in a photograph of a real life moment in time. While photography is quick, and provides a sort of instant satisfaction for the photographer, painting takes a more controlling approach, where the artist makes all the decisions to create and present their final work. Modifying the image from it’s original source is another element which revolutionized/recontextualized photography, in a way that allowed photographers to acquire the same system that painters used, and by using image modification programs like Adobe’s Photoshop, and other consumer-accessible products, a photograph could be remastered into, perhaps, the artist’s original vision.

As referenced to in the fourth page, art seems to change when the world around it is undergoing massive changes, “social transformations”, and an embarking on the current contemporary movement. The social impact on art, for or against it, is a driving force to define the purpose of a current art phenomenon, or cult movement. Even in contemporary times today, as contemporary artists, we tend to see history as something unrelatable, or irrelevant in relation or application to our own art. This in fact, is a position that could never be true, even if we don’t think about it or realize it. Actually, if you think about history in, not just an archive of dates and significant art movements through time, but really imagining what it was like to see/make artworks at the current time/era, most art held a cultural significance which paved the way for one movement in time to morph or transform into another. When the thought process behind art-making advances, it should not be resisted. Any idea could be valid, big or small, it could spark or revolutionize either an invention or innovation.

As a personal reflection to the statements at the bottom of page 6, I think photography, at least in its most raw state, is hard to compare to the artistic value of painting. I guess in my mind, I’m referencing old paintings from perhaps Medieval to Renaissance style. Photography is hard to compare to these paintings for it often times lacks an artist’s individual vision to depict a composition, color choices, environmental distinctions, and human appearance and emotiveness. There is a fullness of vision that emits from a particular original painting, whereas in photography, a viewer may see a photograph as a reflection of a single instant. While both types of art can be enjoyed, there are differences in which they are perceived by the viewer.

I guess my response got a bit disconnected when I began reading about acting and film, I wasn’t sure how that fit in the mixture which was being discussed prior. In the sections that followed, “XII” seemed to resume some of the previous opinions at the beginning of the article. As Benjamin discusses the role of reproduction and society’s reaction to it, He makes some very different distinctions between viewing art and the significance it sustains when it is reproduced for the masses. When reactions from the public come into play of art-making, an artist begins to predetermine, even before creating his work, how the audience will respond to it.

Section “XIII” alludes to written works, books or stories which are translated, and exported as feature films. In this context, re-interpreting someone’s original vision from a written work and making that visual is certainly a trait of a remixing mentality. As a director, film becomes your means of translation, which also becomes a stage to presenting what information you choose to include, exclude, expand, distort, or completely recontextualize. At the highest platform of modifications that a director could make, you could suddenly find that you’re interpretation of another’s work is becoming more of yours than theirs. “The camera introduces us to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses. There is something compelling about taking a viewer through your lens, almost as if you are giving them instructions on what to look at, and potentially, what to receive and feel. Although, many viewers of films today tend to create a bias against film adaptations due to a devotion to the original text.

Actually, taking note of the year this article was written, it seemed to suggest some points that still stand relative today. However, technology has advanced tremendously, and computers have aroused bountiful resources for new-age art-making, the main message behind originality against innovation and reinterpreting is still a polarizing topic as Benjamin states. As long as technology continues to advance, and as long as people’s minds advance with it, people will continue to utilize the powers that they can acquire, as the computer becomes their personal medium to express their visions and declarations of what art really is.

2nd Response: “What do we want copyright to do?”
by: Cory Doctorow

I thought it was interesting how Doctorow brings up the concept of copyrighting’s significance in relation to the production of art in today. When he mentions that copyright is “a system that encourages the most diverse set of creators,” this somehow struck me as a strong point that copyright supporters can rightfully declare. However, while copyright might act as a filter for the truest, most original artists, it does shut doors to people with ideas to modify that content which is copyrighted.

The issue between defying copyright for personal purposes and defying copyright for potential commercial purposes is very different. There are times when something such as a personal project, can escalade into popular culture, but it all depends on the way one proceeds with their projects. Sources, such as YouTube, encourage that you are uploading your own original material, but we as a culture today know that almost 99% of YouTube videos derive from unoriginal source material, such as TV segments, re-uploaded music videos, etc.

Doctorow almost references instant gratification alongside guilt as a factor to copyright encounters. When he mentions YouTube in comparison to being solely devoted to a movie theater, it’s almost as if the impactive power and domination that YouTube has over our culture is something we can’t imagine living without. To resist something that is so accessible at our very homes is hard to bargain, but Doctorow does try to see the issue from both sides, but I think in the end, he sees the progression of a defiant cultural movement towards copyright is growing as technology progresses, so the future and the significance of it is left unknown and undefinable.

-Nicole R.