Charles Baudelaire

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What is Charles Baudelaire's idea of the painter of modern life?

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Charles Baudelaire's idea of the painter of modern life, as laid out in his essay , is that an artist must understand the nature of "present-day beauty," although Baudelaire believes that good artists can learn techniques from the old masters and their works. Nevertheless, the artist must have a...

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Charles Baudelaire's idea of the painter of modern life, as laid out in his essay, is that an artist must understand the nature of "present-day beauty," although Baudelaire believes that good artists can learn techniques from the old masters and their works. Nevertheless, the artist must have a sense of curiosity about what is occurring in the modern world.

Specifically, the artist must be a “man of the world, man of the crowd, and child.” The true artist must therefore remain current about modern trends in order to keep his or her art vibrant. He or she must be an observer of the crowds who can then translate the observations onto the canvas or via the written word.

Baudelaire's view, in some ways, is that the artist must be almost like a journalist or a reporter. A good artist must maintain an interest in the crowds, in terms of painting a picture of the masses for future generations to understand.

Moreover, a good artist must also be able to modernize old world concepts of art to present day. For instance, Manet painted a courtesan as a modern day Venus. In Baudelaire's opinion, what Manet did was to modernize a typical subject matter of an Old World painting. Baudelaire writes,

The pleasure which we derive from the representation of the present is due not only to the beauty with which it can be invested, but also to its essential quality of being present.

He believes that part of the beauty of modernity is its ephemeral quality; it is constantly changing. The artist must respond by constantly being up-to-date with his or her art. Baudelaire believes that the artist’s job is to provide a glimpse of modernity for future generations to both enjoy and to learn from—in other words to understand what the current day was like.

Capturing the beauty of the current day makes art timeless, in Baudelaire's view. Baudelaire wants modern day artists to break away from certain rules that are taught in academic institutions. He believes that scenes showing stagnant people posed in classical clothes is the type of art that provides no added value, but the art from antiquity that captured the beauty of its time and imparts an understanding of the time still resonates with people today. Modern artists must be able to capture the beauty of the present day and communicate it via his or her art, almost in a way that enables future generations to understand what was happening behind the scenes.

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