Charles Baudelaire

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In "The Painter of Modern Life," what does Baudelaire mean by "universal life," and why does the modern painter "delight in universal life"?

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When he refers to "universal life" in "The Painter of Modern Life," Baudelaire in fact excludes many aspects of human existence. He is not, for instance, remotely concerned with rural life, or, for that matter, with any area of life that is peaceful, cloistered, or remote. Indeed, he describes the...

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When he refers to "universal life" in "The Painter of Modern Life," Baudelaire in fact excludes many aspects of human existence. He is not, for instance, remotely concerned with rural life, or, for that matter, with any area of life that is peaceful, cloistered, or remote. Indeed, he describes the painter as a "Man of Crowds." The type of life Baudelaire has in mind is the teeming, crowded, constantly changing life of the modern city. He specifies that "the lover of universal life moves into the crowd as though into an enormous reservoir of electricity."

This simile makes it clear that one of the most appealing elements of modern life for Baudelaire, and for the artist, is its energy. The modern painter, he says, will find no interest in static classical compositions or in painting fields or gardens. He will want to immerse himself in the crowd at the same time as observing and recording it. Apart from its frenetic energy, the crowded city will inspire the artist because it is constantly changing. Baudelaire specifies that the modern painter will be supremely observant, ready to record even the details of fashion which many would regard as trivial. His emotions will be stirred by the ever-changing sights and sounds of the city, and the joy he feels will be evident in his painting.

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