While many philosophers formulated their own ideas and reproduction, not many philosophers have done so like Walter Benjamin. The work that I was referencing to was “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” one of his most famous philosophical article of all time. One of his main ideas Benjamin is concerning about is the shift of perception and its affects on human eyes. This results in different people to analyze different works of art in relation to the viewers’ eyes. Another main idea Benjamin mentioned in his theory is reproduction is always possible. For that, I will be analyzing “Early California”, a mural painted by Millard Sheets and giving a clear explanation and interpretation of this mural based on Walter Benjamin’s theory; as a direct result, I stand my position that reproduction let viewers explore the message of art and aura in more than one powerful ways.
The mural is located in Mark Keppel High School. The mural was made in the 1930s. That was when Mark Keppel High School was being built. The mural was made of enamel and steel. Enamel was a paint that air dries to a glossy finish.
Millard Sheets made this mural. Sheets was an American painter. Sheets was a representative of the California School of Painting. He attended various art schools throughout his schooling years. Also, by nineteen years old, Sheets was a member of California Water Color Society. Sheets even taught watercolor painting before Sheets graduated from Chouinard Art Institute, where he attended college. By the 1930s, he was becoming nationally recognized as an American artist. Sheets was the influential artist not just for the state of California, but to the whole United States as well.
Benjamin made two powerful claims in his article. The first claim was the fact that viewers’ observation of art changes with the change in viewers’ position. Human sense of perception changes with humanity’s mode of existence. Again, we look at the mural. When people in the center look at the mural, they can sense the mural completely. When people are to the sides of the center of the mural, they can sense the mural but not completely. In order to sense the mural completely, one must look to the left or right depending on where they stand. If a viewer is to the left, one must look to the right and if a viewer is to the right, look to your left.
The other claim is that reproduction is always possible. The mural can be reproduced by taking a picture on the camera. People can always look at the picture of Early California mural by searching Google Images. Either way, the experience is completely not the same. The original work does not have a cutoff borders. Also, the original work surroundings changes every second. For example, a bird may be around the mural for one second and then the bird flies away instantly. In addition, the original work stays in one place. People can share the picture of the mural on the phone or the web. Therefore, seeing a mural in person is more valuable and real than looking at the picture of the mural on the web or phone.
I am presenting a theory here. The theory is that people can explain the aura and originality of the art in more than one way. There is a surface meaning and a deeper meaning of the mural. The surface meaning is that California was founded in the 1850s. The deeper meaning is that people can learn more history about California here by looking at the mural and therefore, be more educated about California history.
Analysis of Mural
The mural depicted the lives and legacies of early California in the 1850s. The mural had a golden-colored California and green mountain ranges. These mountain ranges were scattered with decorative golden Redwood trees. The mural was covered with a large reflective stainless steel sun wrapped around with sunrays decoration. The bottom half of the sun was covered by the Conquistador, the state of California, the mountain, and the Miner. On the left, the ship followed the Conquistador in which the ship was covering the mountain. He claimed the new land under Spanish rule. The white, faded Spain flag was placed in Northern California to honor the adventurers who founded California. In the center, the Missionary kneeled down. The Missionary cautiously and thoughtfully placed a mission in Southern California which represented the church for Native Americans trying to practice Christianity and the spreading of Christianity in the state. On the right, the Miner 49er’s poured the water to the ground, which meant that the Miner panned for gold. The Miner found the gold and thus California was a state. His wife held their lovely child and a brown rifle. Two covered sliver wagons were behind the 49er’s wife. These three strong individuals were good to know.
People interpret art in more than one way. One way is to know the surface and deeper meaning of the mural. The surface meaning is that California was founded and settled in the 1850s. Spanish Conquistadors, the Catholic Missionaries, and American Pioneers are depicted in the mural. They were the first three people who settled in this newly formed state. The deeper meaning is that people can learn about the history of California. Learning about the history can make people more educated because one can have more knowledge about California than people who just took history class and never experience the mural. And by experience, I mean go to the mural and try to make as much interpretation as possible. All in all, there are different interpretations of art and I just explained two of the many interpretations of the mural.
There are different modes of reproduction. Reproduction loses the sense of aura. Aura is people’s first impression of art and how they interpret it. One is through taking the picture on the phone. People take a picture of the mural. They can easily share the picture to friends through email, text, and social media to let people who did not see the real mural look at the mural. The experience is not the same but at least people can have a sense of what the picture is, the theme of the picture, and the history behind the picture. The experience is not the same in that people cannot know where the picture was taken unless if the viewer adds the location of the mural by going to the phone’s settings or by writing the location down. Also, the color accuracy is limited by the photo. Depending on the camera, the colors may not be a hundred percent accurate but at least the colors can bring back the memories of many who already viewed the mural and people who never see the mural before. This is just one way reproduction is made.
Also, the first time I saw this mural, I looked at the mural from about fifteen feet away. I was surprised because the mural was there the whole time I went to this high school. I was wondering why I did not see this mural the whole time I went to this high school. Probably, I was not paying any attention at all. I could see my parents. The mural was surrounded by the parking lot and grass. The wall that had the mural was old. I wondered who made this mural. So, I took this picture with my iPhone. It was a good reference picture so that I can always refer back to this mural. I only got a glance of the mural. Additionally, I saw this mural for the second time. This time, I stood closer to the mural. I looked at the details. I began to realize that there were three people. Also, there was a yellow sun in this mural. I began to notice all the colors used in this mural. The colors included gold, blue, and green. Gold was used for the state of California because there was a gold rush during that time. Blue was used because it symbolized water used for panning. Green represented the hills because the hills were covered with grass. I also saw the mural from the left side. The detail was getting lost. I had to look at the right to see the mural. Therefore, the sense of aura is slowly disappearing when I move away from the artpiece. I got all the details as needed so that I can write all about the mural.
The other way the reproduction is possible is through looking at the pictures on the internet. People can search Mark Keppel High School on Wikipedia, look under the section Murals and look at the first picture to your to the right. People can click on the mural and click on the mural again to look at the version of the mural that fits one’s screen page to get a general interruption about the mural. People also can click on the mural again to look at the mural zoomed in.
In conclusion, it is possible to explain the mural in more than one compelling ways. The first claim was that reproduction is possible through various sources. The second claim was that reproduction loses the meaning of the original art. And the third claim is that the prospective of art changes with position. Now I know that the same art, whether original or replica, can significantly affect the meaning of the art. I feel more comfortable and educated about knowing more about the mural.
Allen Lee is a freshman at California State University Northridge. I like to eat for fun.