Charles Baudelaire

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What is Baudelaire writing about in the "Mnemonic Art" section in his The Painter of Modern Life essay, and how does this relate to his idea of the painter, modern life, and his concept of modernity?

In "Mnemonic Art," Baudelaire discusses a type of artist who he describes as "modern" because they focus not on the details of the world they are trying to capture but emphasize the aspects of the those objects that are most striking in memory. This tendency, may at times, lead to exaggeration, since it is an aid to memory. But paradoxically, this technique is optimal for limning the fleeting nature of the impression that a live spectacle make on human memory. As he says, The spectator becomes the translator, so to speak, of a translation which is always clear and thrilling. On the other hand, there is a faithful reproduction, precise in detail, which he dismisses as "myopic"

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In "Mnemonic Art," Baudelaire discusses a type of artist who he describes as "modern" because they focus not on the details of the world they are trying to capture but emphasize the aspects of the those objects that are most striking in memory. This tendency, may at times, lead to exaggeration, since it is an aid to memory. But paradoxically, this technique is optimal for limning the fleeting nature of the impression that a live spectacle make on human memory. As he says,

The spectator becomes the translator, so to speak, of a translation which is always clear and thrilling.

On the other hand, there is a faithful reproduction, precise in detail, which he dismisses as "myopic" and "bureaucratic," claiming it lacks "harmony," and remains thus forgettable.

All justice is trampled under foot, all harmony sacrificed and destroyed; many a trifle assumes vast proportions; many a triviality usurps the attention.

This quality of seizing on the most salient point of visual experience is especially necessary to truly reflect the "modern" experience of cosmopolitan life. Like all European cities, Paris was growing at a highly accelerated pace during the mid-nineteenth century; this swift, dynamic spectacle required a type of talent equal to the challenge.

In his profile of illustrator Monsieur G., Baudelaire offers just such an artist; one whose work exemplifies the ability to capture an evanescent moment in the midst of urban tumult, a "lover of life [entering] into the crowd as though it were an immense reservoir of electrical energy." If not precisely a "lover of life" himself, Baudelaire also reveled in the daily street-theater of the city as his luminous poetry reveals. He deserves to have the last word on this subject:

Modernity is the transitory, the fugitive, the contingent, which make up one half of art, the other being the eternal and immutable.

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