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Baudelaire Vs Aurier

Charles Baudelaire’s “The Painter of Modern Life” and G. -Albert Aurier’s “Symbolism in Painting: Paul Gauguin” are both pivotal works in the scholarship of nineteenth century French art. The essays of both authors express their acclaim and thoughts on a particular artist, while simultaneously projecting their own convictions on art through their discourse. Although almost thirty years apart, the works of Baudelaire and Aurier reveal some overlap among their perceptions of art and the artist, while maintaining some degree of difference to remain distinct.

This paper will juxtapose the two works to evaluate the similarities between Baudelaire and Aurier’s artistic viewpoints and attitudes towards the artist, as well as their competing historical and theoretical perceptions of art. First, the artistic views of Baudelaire and Aurier will be presented and analyzed. The true art according to Aurier is ideist art, which is characterized by its expression of the idea as opposed to a mere reproduction of the world around him (Aurier 200-201).

Meanwhile, art, for Baudelaire, is not that which is inspired by previous artistic traditions, but one that is original to the artist and his time. Just as Baudelaire rebuffs the artist who paints through a model, Aurier comparably declares that painting cannot be a direct representation of an object. Baudelaire, speaking in praise of Guys’ approach of painting, declares that “all good and true” artists are those who paint via memory. In doing so, the artist evokes all the feelings and observations of the memory and then allows a frenzy to overtake him as he transcribes the image onto his canvas (Baudelaire 16-17).

Likewise, Aurier, believing firmly that the idea of art alone was essential, echoes a similar sentiment in his belief in “necessary simplification” (Aurier 194). He argues that from the objective reality of an object, the painter uses his discretion to select only elements that are necessarily to faithfully depict the object (200). Baudelaire even argues when an artist adopts Guys’ method, he will find the actual presence of a model will inhibit his labor (Baudelaire 16). Neither writer believes in the literal depiction of an image, but more of the interpretation of the artist based on memory and discretion.

The artist must be imaginative and original. Next, Baudelaire and Aurier’s views of the artist and his place in society will be examined. Both writers focus on a specific artist — Paul Gauguin in the case of Aurier, and Constantin Guys, or Monsieur G. , in the matter of Baudelaire— to whom they direct their praise and comments. While both Gauguin and Guys are pivotal to the authors’ arguments, these artists act more as vehicles to define what an artist should be according to the writers.

Baudelaire, in expounding on the artist, provides an unforgiving report on the artists of the nineteenth century. He believes them to be out of tune to the world and most to merely be “highly skilled animals, pure artisans, village intellects, cottage brains” (Baudelaire 7). Baudelaire establishes his view that the significance of a painter such as Guys is not manifest in his role as an “artist” (who, according to Baudelaire does not wish to be called one), but in his role as a “man of the world,” (6).

This entails the painter to be well versed in the world around him, and to observe, comprehend, and reflect. According to Baudelaire, painters like Guys possess an insatiable, childlike curiosity, disregard the blase, delight in life, and are in search of modernity (9-12). Through such declarations, Baudelaire elevates the role of painters like Guys beyond a pure artisan into a role that is both spiritual and romanticized. At the same time, he provides the implication of an artistic elite, those who are “men of the world,” which stands in stark contrast to the simple artisans that are left.

A similar feat is seen in Aurier’s article when he likens the artist to nobility, albeit referring to him as “polluted in our age of industrialization” (Aurier 201). Aurier declares that Gauguin, in crafting his art, can read in an object “an abstract signification of a dominating primordial idea” and can express that idea onto a canvas with emotion (201). Thus, Aurier also elevates the artist beyond the rest of humanity in his monumental claims, as someone who is able to read and translate signs that are incomprehensible to the rest of humanity.

Finally, the authors’ discourse on the relation between art, theory, and history will be scrutinized. Baudelaire adamantly rejects the notion that painters should undergo meticulous study of the old masters, such Titian and Raphael, who were not without flaws themselves. Baudelaire thus rebuffs the longstanding practice of adopting artistic conventions rooted in the Greco-Roman tradition. Instead, he argues that the artist must remain in the present, as he does in his declaration that the originality of an artist derives from “the seal which Time imprints on our sensations” (Baudelaire 14).

On the other hand, Aurier is not as invested in the period as much as the dichotomy that exists between realist art and ideist art. While Aurier favors the latter, he acknowledges that it is realist art that is more ubiquitous. Even the idealists were essentially realists, depicting beautiful objects that were “beautiful only inasmuch as they are objects” (198). They captured the beauty through its conventionality and direct representation, which, to Aurier, was not truly beauty in the least. Baudelaire, alternatively, saw beauty, as a binary, consisting of both an eternal element and also of a circumstantial element.

Given the aforementioned points, it is evident that both Aurier and Baudelaire’s ideas and convictions regarding art and the artist were pivotal in the scholarship of modernity. While acclaim of Guys and Gauguin serve as the underpinning of their articles, their evaluations of these artists act as vehicles to review the authors’ artistic standpoints, opinions of the artist, and their theories of art. Baudelaire wants to anchor the artist to the present, and views beauty as a binary that is both perpetual and circumstantial.

Aurier favors a beauty that is less of conventional objective reality, but one that is a translation of the artists’ perception of signs. However, similarities can be also identified between Aurier and Baudelaire in their rebuff of art that is pure imitation of the model or reproduction of previous traditions, devoid of originality. Moreover, each author views the artist as more than laborers, and as translators and well versed in the world around them. Therefore, Aurier and Baudelaire’s scholarship, while first appearing as mere praise of artists they favor, actually serves as critical insight into what they believed art should be.

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