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How does T. J. Clark interpret Baudelaire's concept of "modernity" and his idea of "the painter of modern life" in The Painting of Modern Life?

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T. J. Clark interprets Charles Baudelaire’s idea of modernity in The Painting of Modern Life in several ways. With his discussion on Édouard Manet's Olympia, Clark shows us how the painting of the prostitute links to the kind of "mire" that Baudelaire encouraged artists to "seize." When Clark writes that modernists were characterized by "transgression," we can see that defiance in Baudelaire's poems about corpses, prostitutes, gambling, and other activities and identities that might offend the more obedient bourgeoisie.

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Charles Baudelaire is a crucial Western poet and T. J. Clark is one of the more well-known art critics. In The Painting of Modern Life, Clark appropriates the title of Baudelaire's well-known essay "The Painter of Modern Life" and addresses many of Baudelaire's ideas about modernity and modernism.

Remember, when we are talking about modernity, we're talking about artists, painters, and thinkers who are moving away from romanticized perfection and overly-exotic representation. When it comes to modernity, we're dealing with people concerned with the underbelly of society.

Think about some of the paintings that Clark mentions in his study. One painting that comes to our mind is Édouard Manet's Olympia.

For Clark, Olympia is "also a picture of a prostitute." The prostitute is a favored image of modernists as it contains a "hopeless, disabused nobility."

Indeed, in "The Painter of Modern Life," Baudelaire writes, "If only the sculptor of today had the courage and the wit to seize hold of nobility everywhere, even in the mire."

One key link between Clark's modernity and Baudelaire's modernity is the drive to create art about that which is considered dirty. Concerning Olympia, Clark quotes an art critic who refers to the subject’s “flesh tone” as "dirty."

Clark writes that modernists were

no longer characterized by a system of classification and control but, rather, by mixture, transgression, and ambiguity in the general conduct of life.

We see that transgression in Olympia. We also see it in Baudelaire's poems. What are his poems about? Some are about gambling, skeletons, prostitutes, and an array of other activities and identities that link him to Clark’s—and modernity's—interest in the “mire" of life.

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How does David Carrier interpret Baudelaire's concept of "modernity" and his idea of "the painter of modern life"?

In his book High Art: Charles Baudelaire and the Origins of Modernist Painting, David Carrier draws political and artistic parallels between the revolts of 1968 and the Revolutions of 1848, which influenced Baudelaire. Carrier argues that the political upheavals in Baudelaire's time led to a transition from the unified high art of such classicizing painters as Eugene Delacroix to a much more fragmented and modern low art of painters like Constantin Guys, the artist celebrated by Baudelaire in his essay "The Painter of Modern Life."

Modern life for Baudelaire was city life among the crowds of Paris, particularly the aspects of that life which were most transient, including details of fashion and cosmetics. Baudelaire, Carrier says, turned away from formalist art criticism to focus on the subject matter of painting and its relation to the life of the masses. He did not care whether the modern artist learned his technique from the old masters so long as he used the technique, as Guys did, to capture the dynamism of the city crowds. Carrier sees Baudelaire as anticipating the modernist art of the twentieth century, with its political statements and emphasis on the presentation of and reaction to modernity. Baudelaire's art criticism influenced that of the twentieth century in its examination of the links between aesthetics and politics.

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How does Timothy Raser interpret Baudelaire's concept of "modernity" and his idea of "the painter of modern life"?

In his 2015 work, Baudelaire and Photography: Finding the Painter of Modern Life, Timothy Raser argues that Baudelaire's championship of Constantin Guys is linked to his dismissive attitude towards photography. Baudelaire, like many art critics and artists in the middle of the nineteenth century, did not regard photography as an art, since it merely reproduced whatever was put in front of the camera. However, a very similar point was made about Constantin Guys's painting by his detractors. Guys was a good draughtsman, but he was not an artist, because he merely reproduced the scenes in front of him in realistic detail.

Raser argues that, in looking for a new aesthetic to express modernity, Baudelaire was led astray, prizing mere novelty above beauty. Baudelaire is more concerned about the modernity of the subject than any new techniques in art. In "The Painter of Modern Life," he says that it is perfectly in order for a modern painter to use the style of the old masters, so long as he does so in pictures of the Parisian crowd. This is why he undervalues Impressionism and overstates the brilliance of Constantin Guys's more realistic style. In Raser's view, this style of treating a subject was actually more suited to photography and, if Baudelaire had realized what a major art form photography was to be, he would have sought it there rather than in the second-rate paintings of Constantin Guys.

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How does Francoise Meltzer interpret Baudelaire's concept of "modernity" and his idea of "the painter of modern life"?

Two of the key disputes about Modernism concern its relation to modernity and its relation to the past. The most simplistic popular view is that the Modernist expresses and endorses modernity while rejecting the past, but this is clearly not true of most major Modernist thinkers, including Baudelaire. In her 2011 study, Seeing Double: Baudelaire's Modernity, Francoise Meltzer proposes a more subtle reading of Baudelaire's attitude to modernity. In Meltzer's view, Baudelaire both describes and embodies the contradictions inherent in modernity. He rejects the immediate past as sentimental and derivative but, like the giants of twentieth-century Modernism (Proust, Joyce, Woolf and Eliot), was much more willing to go far back in the past for models and inspiration.

One of the principal contradictions in Baudelaire's attitude is his constant emphasis on the modern era as a time of crowds and mass culture, which he both celebrates and rejects. Baudelaire again anticipates such Modernists as Joyce by writing about the triumph of the common man in an idiom which no common man would understand. The great artist should immerse himself in the crowd, but he is never quite one of them, and if he were, he would cease to be a great artist. By examining these contradictions, Meltzer shows how Baudelaire influenced the paradoxical ideas which were to define Modernist thought.

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