Baudelaire’s Timeless Instruction to Criticism


Charles Baudelaire, The Salon of 1846. Books by David Zwirner

Sometimes a little book deserves a big review. Without a doubt, David Zwirner Books has reissued Charles Baudelaire’s critical masterpiece The Salon of 1846 because it is as relevant today as it was in the middle of the 19e century, and we must remember the importance and responsibility of the middle class in the sphere of artistic activities. The title is abusive, because Baudelaire used the publication more as an opportunity to write a commentary on the state of the art in his time – describing the ideas that were its foundation – than as a critique of the ‘exposure.

Baudelaire started The Salon of 1846 with an astonishing preface dedicating the book to the bourgeoisie – the merchants, landowners, lawyers and leaders of the educated and hardworking middle and upper classes of post-revolutionary France. The revolution had established the middle class as the power of the modern era – as the most important bloc of voters, it gave authority to the structures of justice and their government. Flattering his readers, Baudelaire declared that any book that was not dedicated to the majority in number and intelligence was stupid, but he also used his dedication to sincerely remind middle-class people of their importance as actors. cultural, and the necessity of their engagement in the consumption, in the enjoyment, of art.

Baudelaire’s extraordinary assertion that feeling beauty was a duty was addressed specifically to middle-class people, not to their political representatives, not to gallery owners, not to artists, but directly to the people, who, as elector, had real power over the state. But having power comes at a price. Because the middle classes possessed this power, they had to be worthy of it. To be worthy of it, they must understand and appreciate the restorative power of art, which was “an infinitely precious commodity … which brings the stomach and mind back to the natural balance of the ideal”. They had the power, but with that power, they also had the responsibility to appreciate and feel beauty, for they had no right to do without it. True then, true now – the power over which direction our culture takes is held by the majority – art consumers bear the pleasant burden of the responsibility of shaping its path. Baudelaire insisted that the middle class was, natural friends of the arts, because you are rich men and other scholars among you. An idealized and harmonious human life was possible for members of the middle class who had to contribute their knowledge, industry, labor and money to society, and these gifts were matched by the reward of pleasure.

But then, as today, the middle class faced enemies from within. Among them were monopolists who knew there was power and wealth in controlling access to the arts. He wrote: “The aristocrats of thought, the distributors of praise and blame, the monopolies of the things of the spirit, have told you that you have no right to feel and enjoy – they are Pharisees. It was reasonable that the art-making processes were not easily accessible to the bourgeoisie, as their time was occupied by law and business, not by problems of composition, color and style, but their free time. should be reserved for the experience of pleasure. . The manipulative art monopolists wanted to control this time of pleasure and control people’s feelings. True then, true now.


Comments are closed.