USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Art for the Few

Does art lose its value when it is readily available to the public?

Art that is easily mass produced is often no longer viewed as art in today’s society.  Copious amounts of a work of art takes away its value.  Many times posters and books are no longer even considered to be works of art because of their mass production.

How readily available should art be?  And to whom?

Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction states that, “mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art.  The reactionary attitude toward a Picasso painting changes into the progressive reaction toward a Chaplin movie.  The progressive reaction is characterized by the direct, intimate fusion of visual and emotional enjoyment with the orientation of the expert.  Such fusion is of great social significance.  The greater the decrease in the social significance of an art form, the sharper the distinction between criticism and enjoyment by the public.  The conventional is uncritically enjoyed, and the truly new is criticized with aversion.”

What happens when a mass amount of viewers view a singular work?  Although the piece may not be mass produced, it is still being viewed by masses.  The social significance of the piece changes.  With more viewers, the piece is no longer being criticized and analyzed, it is merely being enjoyed by the observers.

Benjamin also points out that “mass reproduction is aided especially by the reproduction of masses.”

The visitors to the Shanghai World Expo may not necessarily be visiting the Expo for its social and educational value.  Rather, the Expo is seen as a spectacle to many Chinese visitors.  Most are more preoccupied with obtaining a stamp from every pavilion in the Expo rather than learning about each country.  Taking pictures next to what looks aesthetically compelling at many times appears to be more important to the Chinese visitors than the actual content inside the pavilions.

What happens when art becomes a neglected spectacle instead of a valued exhibition?

What does this say about a society as a whole?  Is the fact that society does not see value in the exhibitions a problem with the society, or a problem with the fact that these exhibitions are too readily available?

Mass accessibility devalues art.  The art remains the same, with the same content, yet this content is overlooked when put into an overly inhabited environment.  The few that still critically analyze the work exist within this mass, but at the same time are unable to be completely critical of the work because of the chaotic backdrop surrounding it.

Would the Shanghai World Expo be more successful in terms of its educational value if placed in a different location?  The Expo would have been more successful in a pedagogical sense if the amount of visitors was limited.  However, by limiting the number of viewers, the masses would not have a chance to attempt to experience all that the Expo has to offer, whether or not they can overlook the spectacle aspect and see the Expo for what it truly is.

Sara Tenanes

Filed under: Architecture, Art, China, Expo, mass production, Shanghai,

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AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu

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