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“Our fine arts were developed, their types and uses were established, in times very different from the present, by men whose power of action upon things was insignificant in comparison with ours.But the amazing growth of our techniques, the adaptability and precision they have attained, the ideas and habits they are creating, make it a certainty that profound changes are impending in the ancient craft of the Beautiful.
Bronzes, terra cottas, and coins were the only art works which they could produce in quantity.Their dialectic is no less noticeable in the superstructure than in the economy.It would therefore be wrong to underestimate the value of such theses as a weapon.He went back to the basic conditions underlying capitalistic production and through his presentation showed what could be expected of capitalism in the future.The result was that one could expect it not only to exploit the proletariat with increasing intensity, but ultimately to create conditions which would make it possible to abolish capitalism itself.The enormous changes which printing, the mechanical reproduction of writing, has brought about in literature are a familiar story.
However, within the phenomenon which we are here examining from the perspective of world history, print is merely a special, though particularly important, case.
But only a few decades after its invention, lithography was surpassed by photography.
For the first time in the process of pictorial reproduction, photography freed the hand of the most important artistic functions which henceforth devolved only upon the eye looking into a lens.
These convergent endeavors made predictable a situation which Paul Valery pointed up in this sentence: “Just as water, gas, and electricity are brought into our houses from far off to satisfy our needs in response to a minimal effort, so we shall be supplied with visual or auditory images, which will appear and disappear at a simple movement of the hand, hardly more than a sign.” Around 1900 technical reproduction had reached a standard that not only permitted it to reproduce all transmitted works of art and thus to cause the most profound change in their impact upon the public; it also had captured a place of its own among the artistic processes.
For the study of this standard nothing is more revealing than the nature of the repercussions that these two different manifestations – the reproduction of works of art and the art of the film – have had on art in its traditional form.
They are, on the other hand, useful for the formulation of revolutionary demands in the politics of art.