In Walter Benjamin's Essay " The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction", what did he mean by the following statement?

 

The greater the decrease in the social significance of an art form, the sharper the distinction between criticism and enjoyment by the public. (Walter Benjamin, in Illuminations, chapter XII, page 14)

By this statement, Walter Benjamin means that the more popular and socially significant a work of art is, the more likely the public is to enjoy it without requiring explanation by critics and academics.

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Walter Benjamin's essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" is about the democratization of art. The main way in which this occurs, Benjamin argues, is through mechanical reproduction. The poster you buy in the gift shop of an art museum is not just as important as the painting it reproduces, but more so. You can put the poster up in your own home and look at it every day, and many thousands of other people can do the same, vastly increasing the appreciation and enjoyment attracted by the work of art.

However, another way in which art is democratized is by the creation of works that can be widely appreciated without the intervention of an expert. This is Benjamin's focus in the following quotation:

The greater the decrease in the social significance of an art form, the sharper the distinction between criticism and enjoyment by the public.

Benjamin regards film as one of the most significant art forms of the twentieth century. This is partly because the public enjoyment of films does not usually need to be mediated by critics and academics, and the more popular the film, the more likely this is to be the case. When you go to see the latest Hollywood blockbuster, no one explains it to you, as it does not require explanation. A small arthouse film or a more highbrow art-form such as a Shakespeare play or an Italian opera is much more likely to be explained to the audience by someone who has studied it closely. This, for Benjamin, is a measure of the decreased social significance of such art-forms when compared with democratic popular art.

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