“Works of art are received and valued on different planes. Two polar types stand out; with one, the accent is on the cult value; with the other, on the exhibition value of the work. Artistic production begins with ceremonial objects destined to serve in a cult.” (Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction)
There has always been a debate over what constitutes art. Many philosophers over time have provided insight with regards to arts “true definition”.
So what is art? According to Morris Weitz, “Each age, each art-movement, each philosophy of art, tries over and over again to establish the stated ideal only to be succeeded by a new or revised theory, rooted, at least in part, in the repudiation of preceding ones”. (The Role of Theory in Aesthetics) As time progresses, so does artistic expression and representation.
Benjamin discusses the evolution of art from hieroglyphics, to paintings to lithography to photography and finally to film. Lithography gave way to reproduction of art, which according to Benjamin, was the deterioration of art’s aura.
Within The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Benjamin parallels magic and surgery to painting and film. A magician maintains a “natural distance” when making a disease disappear from an ailing patient, while a surgeon invades “natural distance” dissecting the flesh to remove the disease. Likewise, the “painter keeps a natural distance from reality; the cameraman penetrates deeply into its web. There is a tremendous difference between the pictures they obtain. That of the painter is a total one, that of the cameraman consists of multiple fragments, which are assembled under a new law”. (Benjamin)
While I agree with Walter’s notation, that reproduction gives way to capitalistic gains, removing inspiration and raw emotion from the art experience, it is difficult to prove that film cannot be art. Movies within popular culture definitely have cult value and exhibition value. Films are depicted based on the vision of the director, so why can’t the director be seen as the painter, the camera be seen as his brush and the film studio as his canvas?
While art has no criteria, it is not true that films can maintain a cult following based on monetary measurements?
Office Space, which debuted in theaters is 1999 “grossed over $4 million dollars within the opening weekend”. (Wikipedia.org) Famous lines from the film were later “featured in shows like Family Guy, and was later referenced in a Facebook app developed by RockYou”. (Wikipedia.org) In my opinion the film itself maintained an aura and not a specific character, as each actor within the film played a critical role that led to its cult following.
Can one not say that film is a “transformation within the dominant culture economy that is adapted to fit the director’s interest”? (DeCerteau, General Introduction) Is there really any significant difference between is film displaying in a theater versus an artist’s work(s) being displayed and sold in a gallery exhibition?
Pinpointing a universal definition for art gives way to additional criteria, making the scope of art broader than ever. I truly believe that Morris Weitz was ahead of his time as he placed emphasis on art as a concept as opposed to a single definition. As technology continues to evolve, it will give way to new art forms and concepts.