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Analytical and Critical Commentary on Joselit and Baudelaire

Week 1 reading: Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, trans. Jonathon Mayne, (London, 1995)

In this essay, Baudelaire depicts the notion that anonymous encounters of daily life in an urban setting make up a world of impressions that are worthy being represented in the modern art. He promotes social observation as a style and ideology for modern art, which has been used successfully by newspapers targeting mass readership. Popular critic on Baudelaire’s work argues that the ideology used in the essay is emblematic of the tortured intellectual in the period immediately before industrial capitalism (Benjamin, 1997). Baudelaire makes use of existing themes in the literature of modernity that would resonate with contemporary audiences. The noun ‘flaneur” for example, which means lounger or stroller, came up in French literature to describe the experiences of a person in the changing society and city.

In the writing, Baudelaire describes the female in contrast to the male, as a spectacle, not in terms of psychology or character “She is a kind of idol, stupid perhaps, but dazzling and bewitching” (p.30). Based on this description of the female, it would be expected that Baudelaire would dismiss the female and matters related to her, but he goes ahead in pages to focus on female driven topic, fashion and cosmetics. He argues that for modernism, fashion is the leading indicator of the “ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent,” (p. 32) for nothing is more prone to change like fashion. Fashion therefore stands for the new consumerism which is showcased in the arcades, where commodities are protected in passages of glass and iron. The woman therefore and as argued by Baudelaire is the carrier if artificiality, which is the desire of non-necessity and drives the economy.

Baudelaire argues that art is the catalyst of beauty as beauty, is the result of reason and calculation. Baudelaire writing experiences a slippage from “women” to “prostitutes” as if for the poetic artists, there was no difference. This view of the writer grows from the age where marriage was often on the basis of financial status and thus, he has not interest in the so-called respectable lady who reflected the position and interests of her husband. Baudelaire position is not always the case as this generalization doesn’t represent the society in general. However, he latter argues that the creates art as he sees it, and not how others would want to see it, and therefore, drives further the theme of using surroundings as a motivator for art.


Benjamin, Walter. Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, (London, 1997).


Week 2: David Joselit, “On Aggregators,” October 146 (2013): 3-18.

In this article, Joselit poses a relevant and interesting argument on the meaning of the word contemporary in today’s context. He notes that the meaning of the word “with time” is notably different from the avant-garde. The contemporary like avant-garde can only go forward but unlike the avant-garde, contemporary doesn’t have an avant, that is, its forward movement doesn’t carry the productive shock of being in advance.

Under art criticism and theory, Joselit’s October, On aggregators focuses critical attention on the contemporary art which include music, media, performance, literature, photography, and sculpture, and argues that these pieces are open to various contexts of interpretation. Contemporary therefore, as used by Joselit means that, the meaning of a piece of art will greatly vary with time. Under a critical viewpoint, this might not however be true because, a piece of art can out-stand the test of time and retain its meaning, for example, the Monalisa portrait. Additionally, the meaning of a piece of art can mean a different thing in a given time to different people especially music which can mean different things as a result of language and culture.

The aspect of globalization in the context of art according to Joselit when placed alongside the literal meaning of contemporary “with time”, is problematic. Nevertheless, the advert of innovation and technology has in a great way opened the conversation to the cultural, education, and political disparity that exists in the context of globalization. Through technology, population in developing economies and emerging markets are making their voices heard through art.

Nevertheless, art plays a key role in documentation, and the various element of contemporary art encompass the unevenness of globalization to make it challenging to create a productive shock in art. As a result, the term ‘aggregators’ has been used by Joselit to condemn the current state of globalized state. He argues that “aggregators are online services such as Contemporary Art Daily . . . that filter information for art-world consumption making it possible . . . to shape vast flows and reservoirs of art-world information through the digital template” (p.3). The term therefore is an indicator of the increased amount of information that individuals are consuming on a day to day basis.

Technology advances due to the many inventions e.g. iPhones make ‘productive shock’ of the avant-garde unattainable in modern day art. Even though contemporary art movement maybe not revolutionary in the avant-garde sense of the world, art is still progressing to date. At the same time, art today is trying to make sense of a technological advancement in a globalized society and it is only when we learn to make sense of the present that we can look at the past in order to realize a more dramatic move towards the future.


Week 3: Stan Allen, “Introduction: Practise vs. Project,” in Practice: Architecture, Technique and Representation (2000), pp. Xiii-xxv

In Practise vs. Project, Allen argues the concepts of architecture are not imported from other disciplines but are as a result of the materials and practise of architecture itself. This view is advised by his experience as an architect where he explains that the tools available will affect the design and production of a structure. It is however acknowledgeable that architecture as a discipline requires input across a range of constantly changing factors from the builders, clients, to the budget involved. As a result, architecture is practised in an open environment where each activity involved requires quick adaptation to suit the many variables on and off the site.

The theory of architecture has stood for long and it unites a number of things within a framework. The theory causes the involved to see how things change over time for instance, the approach on discursive practises and material practise. While discursive practises look critically at what already exists, material practises bring new things into being. In modern day society, the major concern is what architecture can do rather than what is means or what it is. Material practises are therefore agile and responsive and can be considered to be tied to a fast moving reality. Architectural history and the theories still relevant today stand as a starting point, but the high amount of work that has been taken bypass the outmoded starting therefore leaving the discipline to new techniques.

It would therefore be argued that, Allen in this essay wasn’t arguing about theory per se but rather, he was arguing about practise. The distinction he creates between practises were hermeneutic practises (those including history, arts, and culture) and material practises (including maths, science, and structure) would be argued to be a misleading analogy because hermeneutic practises (as he describes then in the text), are essentially architectural theory and material practises are architectural sciences (which is by itself an aspect of architectural theory). An argument that material practises are superior to hermeneutic practises is their practicality unfortunately falls into the trapping misconception of our time that sciences and the ‘hard’ knowledge of structures is superior to arts and the ‘soft’ knowledge of structures.


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