Friday, November 13, 2009
The Urban Flaneur as Reader of the Text of the City
(picture taken from online resources of the Chicago Institute of Art http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/20684 )
I was searching in google (googling) for blogs on the art of being a flaneur and came upon this page from a website: http://sites.google.com/site/videoflaneur2/aboutfl%C3%A2neur
This page is connected with the webage of konstantinos-antonios goutos/the[video]Flâneu®, found at http://sites.google.com/site/videoflaneur2/ . Mr. Goutos uses video to illustrate the views of an urban flaneur. The quotes that struck me were the following:
In the flâneur`s perceptive eyes, what appeared incoherent and meaningless gains focus and visability. The flâneur brings alive and invests with significance the fleeting, everyday occurrences of the city that ordinary people failed to notice.
The unique relationship between the flâneur and the urban environment was invariably characterized by the metaphor of the city as text and the flâneur as reader.
The above quotes were taken by Mr. Goutos from an article of Mary Gluck, The Flâneur and the Aesthetic Appropriation of Urban Culture in Mid-19th century, Paris, Theory, Culture and Siciety, 2003 (SAGE, London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi), Vol. 20 tcs.sagepub.com)
When I pondered about these quotes, I immediately thought of the painting by Caillebotte, Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877), as seen at the begining of this section. (Note: you can double click the image to make it larger._
I saw this painting as a teenager while visiting Chicago from my then hometown in Iowa, I went with my father on a business trip. While he was going to meetings, I spent the whole day in the museum. While I have been to most of the art museums around the world, there are few paintings which touched me with awe and transformed my perceptions in one instance. Salvadore Dali stated “I don't do drugs. I am drugs. “ This painting transforms something ordinary into a portal into the senses, aesthetics and society. As all paintings, they must be viewed in the gallery to get the full impression. I was first struck by the impression of rain on the pavement. The later by the almost realistic, but somewhat false appearance of the figures. A moment which passed in less than a second is paused and manipulated to bring the ordinary into a vehicle of contemplation on multiple levels. Is it merely a clever arrangements of different perspectives? Is it a criticism of the bourgeois lifestyle of Paris? Is the painting merely a predecessor of hyper-realism? This painting illustrates for me the artist as the urban flaneur. Caillebotte is reading the city as metaphor and delivering it to his audience. Is an urban flaneur not a shaman who takes the ordinary and gives us visions?
(Note: A discussion of Caillebotte as a flaneur can be found at the following link: