"He [Manet] arranges the figures before him, more or less at random, and then is only interested in getting them down on the canvas as he sees them, with all the vivid contrasts that they make with one another. Charles Baudelaire, whose impact on art history has been greater than the others, was certain that he knew as much about art as painters.
Ask nothing else from him than an exactly literal translation. He knows how to paint and that is all…" After those unsuccessful attempts, the honesty with which Gustave Flaubert admitted he understood nothing about Manet’s paintings is rather refreshing. He was brilliant but the fact that he chose an insignificant draughtsman, Constantin Guys, as his main example in And he published the essay in the same year his friend Manet was the talk-of-the-town.
So few understand visual art, major writers can say almost anything and get away with it.
I now take their words with a paint-pot of saline solution.
Not that the artists are more insightful when they themselves write but that’s a topic for another post.
In a nut shell, the word ‘flaneur’ can be simply described as ‘an idle man-about-town’ (Flaneur) or a type of loafer.It is instead a view inside the artist’s mind which means there is neither a “window” nor a viewer other than the artist.If anything, art is like a mirror as Alberti’s Narcissus reference could have suggested to him but it was a concept he quickly passed over.Even 500 years ago when modern art theory began, the most-cited texts are equally disappointing.The foundational treatise on painting by Leon Battista Alberti, published in 1435, is seriously misguided except on the technical aspects of the craft and a brief mention of Narcissus as the legendary inventor of painting.Earlier scribes, with far less access to art’s masterpieces than we have today, failed to grasp that.And that, in turn, might explain why artists recognize the shared philosophy between literature and art but writers don’t.In between the Renaissance and modern writers are a host of others who considered visual art as either mere copying of nature or an illustration of literature, be it the Bible or their own plots.Thomas Puttfarken, specialising in Renaissance art, has also challenged the majority view, claiming the Renaissance humanists who promoted painting had no particular love of the art nor any particular belief about its merits.Years ago I thought that the Renaissance humanists who fought to have painting accepted as a liberal art knew a lot about the subject. For us in search of art’s underlying meaning, it’s more important to absorb literature's philosophy and veiled allegories than listen to what Shakespeare or other celebrated writers have to say about painting.In 16th-century England there was probably very little significant art for the Bard to see anyway and he rarely mentioned it.