Monthly Archives: June 2011

Reciprocal Analogy, Baudelaire’s Imaginative Instinct

In Baudelaire’s, Salon of 1846, he reflects on the words of E.T.A.Hoffman: “It is not only in my dreams and in the reverie that precedes slumber, but also in my waking thoughts that I hear music, that I find an analogy, an intimate union of colors, sounds, and scents. All of these elements unite as if they had sprung from the same flash of light, to join together in a marvelous concert.” The imagination, at its root, joins or binds together all sensory experience so that a painter as well as a poet can experience the same phenomena and be able to describe it in similar terms; it, essentially, conveying an equivalent inner imaginative experience. Again, Baudelaire states, “The imagination is an almost divine faculty which perceives at once, quite without resort to philosophic methods, the intimate and secret connection between things, correspondences, and analogies.” (Baudelaire, “Further Notes on Edgar Poe”, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, p.102)

If one takes music, which is quite abstract, one finds that great music evokes analogous ideas in different persons. Again, Baudelaire argues that, “… for what would be truly surprising would be to find that sound could not suggest colour, that colour could not evoke the idea of a melody, and that sound and colour were unsuitable for the translation of ideas, seeing that things have always found their expression through a system of reciprocal analogy…” (Ibid., “Richard Wagner and Tannhauser in Paris”, p.117)

I have found in my own experience, that poetry provides a perfect suggestion for reverie and allows me to explore ideas for painting quite freely. There is an analogous relationship between poetry and painting- both call forth a singular image. It is a smooth path to the imagination through poetic image both suggested or implied. It also provides a fertile ground for the imagination to present the unexpected. By providing a pathway to reverie one can be open to those things that lie hidden in memory or the unconscious. When we experience effective dreams they, similarly, present something that is not premeditated presenting images with surprising efficacy.

On hearing Wagner’s Tannhauser for the first time, Baudelaire expresses the profound impact it has on him. It is the perfect description of the power of an art form to transport the imagination of the listener or viewer to a new and unexpected experience. “I remember that from the very first bars I suffered one of those happy impressions that almost all imaginative men have known, through dreams, in sleep. I felt myself released from the bonds of gravity, and rediscovered in memory that extraordinary thrill of pleasure which dwells in high places…Next I found myself imagining the delicious state of a man in the grip of profound reverie, in an absolute solitude… an immensity with no other decor but itself.” (Ibid.,p.116)

Baudelaire describes his experience as one who, “has undergone a spiritual operation, a revelation.” This experience, because it was so unexpected, releases the imagination from its ordinary bonds, and transports the listener/viewer to another place that is intimate and profound – creating an isthmus between one’s inner life and the world. One knows when one has touched this place because ever after there is a deep longing to return to this intimate place. It is a “nostalgia”, a longing for that profound contact with the self.¬† “It is in this gift for suffering, which is common to all artists but which is all the greater as their instinct for the beautiful and the exact is more pronounced…”, (Ibid.p.119) that propels one to seek again this visionary experience that forever binds the artist to the path of the imagination. Nothing else will satisfy the soul any longer.

A Necessary Retreat, Paintings of Cape Cod

A retreat is always a necessity for an artist. It is so important to have time away and time for contemplation. In the end, contemplation is the labor of the artist and painting is the fruit of that time of silence. Baudelaire states quite truly that only in idleness can greatness come. Idleness provides  the imagination a moment to perceive and manifest images that are always present but our mind is closed to.

Last week, I painted the dunes and beach heads of Cape Cod. I painted small pochades, which are quick studies that give a feeling of immediacy. One can live in the moment and be open to something new, yet unperceived. This was a nice change since I spend a long time on my figurative paintings. They begin in contemplation; move to idea sketches; then to more developed drawings, choosing the pose that is the most emotive; then onto a color study; and finally the larger more developed piece is begun and worked through. A long process that takes months at a time. So this immediacy of the pochade was a welcome change. It was also refreshing and invigorating.

I cannot say enough about the power of reverie for the health and well-being of the imagination. Without the imagination there is no life, no vitality in one’s work. Baudelaire states, “The imagination is an almost divine faculty which perceives at once, quite without resort to philosophic methods, the intimate and secret connections between things, correspondences and analogies.” (Baudelaire, “Notes on Edgar Poe”, The Painter of Modern Life, p.102) It is these intimate connections that the artist must concern himself with. Why waste your time on anything else.

All of the pochades were painted in oil on Bainbridge board #80, double thick, measuring 6″X 8″. The area I found most beautiful because of its wildness was from Nauset Light to Head of the Meadow to Race Point. This upper area of the Cape remains mostly untouched similar in feeling to Thoreau’s description of his walk across Cape Cod so many years ago.

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