Walter Benjamin: Why Is Art Worth More Than Music?

walter benjamin
German Philosopher Walter Benjamin: 1892-1940

Walter Benjamin was a German philosopher (1892-1940) whose most famous work from 1936 was called The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. You can read here. In his famous work, he discusses originality, authenticity, and mass production of art. He writes about the “aura” that original works of art possess and the loss of that “aura” in works that have been reproduced. A painting by Picasso has an aura. A lithograph by Picasso in a run of 250 copies does not. The lithograph is not the original. Neither does photography have an aura. In his thinking, photos are the image of an image.

blue guitar_kind of blue
Why is Man With Blue Guitar worth so much more than Kind Of Blue?

What about music? Why is an original master tape of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue worth eons less than Picasso’s Man with the Blue Guitar? Why do most iconic jazz musicians make so much less money than iconic fine artists? Why didn’t Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, or John Coltrane fetch the kind of money Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, or Mark Rothko have made? Is it because record companies pressed thousands if not millions of their records, and that all performances on those records were identical? What about the master tape, the original? Is it worth less because it has been copied, just like lithographs?

And yet a signed copy of say, Kind of Blue would still be worth much less than a signed lithograph by Matisse or Picasso.

Walter Benjamin committed suicide in 1940 when he believed he couldn’t cross the Spanish / French border and escape death from the nazis. He had gone there, like Hemingway and George Orwell, to help the Republicans. When Franco called in the Luftwaffe to test out the new ME 109s and bomb Guernica, Picasso painted the horrendous painting of the same name. Too bad Walter Benjamin didn’t live longer, or write about musical recordings and the rise of the music industry after World War II.

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