Charles Baudelaire

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What does it mean when Baudelaire says that the modern artist should “set up his house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of motion, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite”?

In this quote Baudelaire states that the modern artist should be centered among the flow of everyday life in order to capture the moment in history. Culture is constantly changing, so it is important to Baudelaire to take the ephemeral elements such as this and encase it forever within art.

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In his essay, "The Painter of Modern Life," Baudelaire insists that the modern painter must paint modern subjects. The painter may receive rigorous academic training in the techniques of the Old Masters, but his subject should be the crowded modern city, not the scenes from classical antiquity favored by artists such as Jacques-Louis David, or the pastoral landscapes of the eighteenth century.

Baudelaire spent a great deal of time meditating on the connection between aesthetics and modernity. He had concluded that there is a specifically modern form of beauty, which he describes here as "the ebb and flow of motion." The modern artist, according to Baudelaire, should find and capture the aspects of the city that are most ephemeral, fads and fashions that will be gone in a few months. This is what he means by "the fugitive" here. The painter should situate himself in the midst of the crowd, appreciating, capturing and transmitting its fragile beauty. Baudelaire writes that this throng of people is the natural element of the painter, who immerses himself in it even as he observes it:

The crowd is his domain, just as the air is the bird’s, and water that of the fish. His passion and his profession is to merge with the crowd.

However, while the painter is creating art out of the ephemeral, he remains connected to the element of beauty that is eternal and immutable. This duality means that he lives and works "in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite."

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