Charles Baudelaire

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In his essay, "The Painter of Modern Life," what is Baudelaire's theory of "beauty" and how does this related to his idea of "modernity"?

In "The Painter of Modern Life" Baudelaire defines beauty as "made up of an eternal, invariable element. . .and of a relative circumstantial element." In other words, beauty consists of a combination of the eternal and the temporal.

For Baudelaire, modernity is closely related to his concept of beauty. It provides the "relative, circumstantial element" of beauty, that part which is concerned with the fleeting and the contingent.

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Similarly to many artists, Baudelaire understands beauty to contain an eternal element, an element which allows works of art to speak to successive generations long after they were created. It is only because beauty is partly eternal that people today are able to enjoy works of Renaissance art. Those works...

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Similarly to many artists, Baudelaire understands beauty to contain an eternal element, an element which allows works of art to speak to successive generations long after they were created. It is only because beauty is partly eternal that people today are able to enjoy works of Renaissance art. Those works were created during a completely different time, place, and culture, but they continue to speak to us because they hold some of the eternal, that which transcends the contingencies of time and place.

But for Baudelaire, there's another side to beauty. He calls it the "relative, circumstantial element." This element deals with what is ephemeral and contingent; it is here today and gone tomorrow. And it is this element of beauty which Baudelaire regards as synonymous with modernity.

For one of the most notable features of modernity is its fleeting nature. Everything is in a state of rapid change, and so the modern artist, in depicting this world, somehow needs to capture this dynamic quality. However, at the same time they must reveal the eternal aspect of beauty that exists within the world around us. In other words, the modern artist must do justice to both elements of beauty, the eternal and the temporal, the necessary and the contingent.

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