August 1930

November 1930

October 1936

December 1941

In 1936, Walter Benjamin published his hallmark essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. This essay highlights the role of Art in the era of Mass Culture. The camera suddenly allowed the painting or the statue to appear, not only in a singular physical context, but also in the textbook that could be distributed around the world. Increasing democratization of Western Civilization had removed the elite from the position of cultural guardian. Culture was placed in the hands of the common man. For some, this created a crisis. William Carlos Williams felt that language had been divorced from imagination. T. S. Eliot urged his readers to take on the Historical Sense, to keep tradition as a present reality. Walter Benjamin was not as pessimistic as others, but he did conclude that art had lost its aura, never to be regained. A look at the Fortune covers from the 1930's with an understanding of Benjamin's essay reveals a culture struggling to maintain the ability, and enjoying the freedom, to define and shape itself.

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