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1/26/2004

Personal Auras...my take on Benjamin 

Walter Benjamin's essay 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' brings up a few interesting ideas, the most debated being his use of the word Aura to describe the quality of unique works of art that exist in only one place, which is precisely what gives them the quality of authenticity, which cannot be reproduced. Or so says the glossary. It's talking about paintings in galleries, and the way that a print of a masterpiece pales in comparison and simply cannot capture the essence or integrity of the original piece. The most common and obvious example of this would be The Mona Lisa... the be all and end all of portraiture, the most famous, and, arguably, best painting ever done. But I have never been to the Louvre or seen The Mona Lisa so I couldn't tell you if she has an aura or not. But I can vouch for the existence of a painting's aura, because I have felt it, and that is what this entry is really about.

The Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto is a nice place, and if you are in the city I recommend you stop by. It was in visiting this gallery that I stumbled upon something much bigger than myself as I wandered up to the second floor. Framed by a large, open doorway, the first painting you see when you enter the Group of Seven exhibit is Lawren Harris's Lake and Mountains This painting could rip my heart out...make me cry...make me laugh...make me think... Any cliched expression, really. But in all seriousness, standing in front of Lake and Mountains and truly taking it all in is so far removed from the annotated version they give you in art history textbooks that comparing the two seems pointless. It's like the difference between having a picture of an ice-cream sundae and actually eating one. The replication can be pretty, but it doesn't have the substance, or the intensity, or the sensory reaction of the real thing.

As for the painting only being able to exist in one place... I have a feeling that Lake and Mountains could easily exist outside of the AGO, but its soul and power are ingrained in the Canadian landscape and those who have experienced it first-hand.

Here is where I raise some questions. So I experienced the aura of one particular painting...does that mean that ALL paintings have an aura? And secondly, you may be sitting there, thinking "I have been to the AGO... I saw that painting... I didn't think it was anything special, why did you?"

Here is where I attempt an answer. I think that the aura of a painting is dependent not only on the originality and physical placement of the work, but also on the viewers. Art exists everywhere, and art is changing... it always has been. The only constant factor in the history of art has been the viewers. I won't venture so far as to say why works of are exist and are valued... But everyone has different experiences in life which might draw them to love the work of Dali or DaVinci... Gauguin or Giger

My experiences, my views on life and what I consider beautiful drew me to a painting by Lawren Harris... a reflection of my personal aura.

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