A common theme of debate seen throughout Benjamin, Horkeimer and Adorno, and Bazin’s work is the question of the value of art, and whether this value is diminished by its reproduction. In order to appraise this, one must decide what they define value as. Benjamin’s argument suggests that there are two types of value: cult, and exhibition. Cult value is the worth of art raised by its exclusivity. Exhibition value holds its worth in the opposite: the value of a piece in relation to its ability to be viewed by a mass audience. Depending on which assessment you consider, a piece of art can be valuable or worthless, though I might argue that all art needs at least some exhibition value if it is to be seen or heard by human senses. Take Indie music, for example: the listeners of this genre often pride themselves on enjoying a music they see as exclusive, as if they were the first to discover it. In this way, it has high cult value. However, if no one was listening to it, or in other words, it had no exhibition value, I might argue that it would be impossible for it to have cult value either.
Horkeimer and Adorno address this need for exhibition value, but they seem to argue that it lessons the authenticity and overall worth of a piece of art. According to them, the accessibility and structure of art is constructed to serve a capitalist motive. When what Benjamin would call “exhibition value” is raised, Horkiemer and Adorno argue that this is achieved by a watering down of original art. Successful song riffs and themes are repeated as far as plagiarism laws will allow, and movie plots are varied slightly. Even original, authentic art can be diluted on the movie screen. Take, for example, Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Grey. The book itself is complex, hedonistic, and mesmerizing, while the on screen adaptation is a simplified, bastardized version of the original. But it could be argued that this simplified version is better suited for mass culture.
This is where Bazin’s argument comes in. Where Horkiemer and Adorno would argue that a novel is being artistically molested when being transferred to popular cinema, Bazin argues that it is simply being transferred to another form that, though different, can be equal in its own right. The simplification of a novel is not necessarily a bad thing, because it makes a complex narrative accessible. Its main goal is to condense the work, and “retain only the main characters and situations.” If this is achieved, it makes a written work available to the public, as opposed to just the intellectual, which doesn’t hurt the original. He strengthens this argument by pointing out that there has never been an original novel that hasn’t gone up in sales after being transferred to the silver screen. An example of this could be the adaptation of Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road. In transferring the novel to film, one loses the character complexities of the original, but it is made more striking by the visual aspect. Seeing the blood after April’s abortion/suicide makes it more real than reading about it.
So which of these arguments holds true? It is possible that none, or even all of them are correct. In the end, I might argue that it comes down to the audience’s preference. All art is in some sense, created for an audience, and as the potential audience for the artistic is constantly changing, so too does the right or wrong appraisal of its value and authenticity.