[Part two of "Ruskin and Baudelaire on Art and Artist," which originally appeared in the University of Toronto Quarterly, 37 (1968): 295-308. indicates linked materials not in the original print version.]
uskin and Baudelaire believe painting and poetry should be judged by criteria particularly appropriate to a theory of art centred on the expression of individual reactions. For example, each holds that sincerity is an essential requisite of both creator and creation. Of course, ever since Horace advised poets that to move the reader they must themselves be moved, it had been a critical commonplace that the writer must feel the emotion he wants to convey; but romantic critical theory, with its great debt to eighteenth-century ideas of sublimity, to ideas which stressed an authentic aesthetic experience, placed new importance on the creator's sincerity.
Another criterion which owes much to the eighteenth-century roots of romanticism is intensity. Theories of sublimity, which were frequently concemed with violent emotional reactions, made intensity of aesthetic experience a matter of concern; and intensity became even more important with the growth, in the eighteenth century, of epistemologies that conceived that emotion and imagination — not conscious intellect — grasp all that is important to man and art. As Ruskin explains, since we perceive by means of the imagination's emotional processes, the more intense our emotion, the deeper will be the imagination's glance, the surer its grasp of truth: "Wholly in proportion to the intensity of feeling" which you bring to the subject you have chosen, will be the depth and justice of your perception of its character" (16.370). Elsewhere, Ruskin explains this relationship between intensity of feeling and perception in more detail: "[T]here is reciprocal action between the intensity of moral" feeling and the power of imagination; for, on the one hand, those who have keenest sympathy are those who look closest and pierce deepest, and hold securest; and on the other, those who have so pierced and seen the melancholy deeps of things are filled with the most intense passion and gentleness of sympathy" (4.257). In other words, the imagination's distinguishing quality and strength is that it sees with intensity: "The virtue of the Imagination is its reaching, by intuition and intensity of gaze (not by reasoning, but by its opening and revealing power), a more essential truth than is to be seen at the surface of things" (4.284). Therefore, since intensity becomes so closely related to the means of perceiving what is true, intensity becomes a criterion of both artistic perception and aesthetic experience.
This same notion of intensity also enters their conceptions of art and artist. The belief that the artist must be an intense, passionate man appears, for example, both in Ruskin's remark that "If you are without strong passions, you cannot be a painter at all" (22.17), and in Baudelaire's many descriptions of great painters and poets. His favourite painter is characterized as "un volcan" (438), a passionate, intense, even obsessed man: Delacroix, whose work in later years "n'était plus seulement une passion, mais aurait pu s'appeler une fureur" (444), "était passionnément amoureux de la passion" (426). Similarly, Balzac, "visionnaire passionné" (678), is, like Delacroix and another favourite, Poe, marked by his concentration of feeling and by his intensity of vision.
For Baudelaire, though not for Ruskin, this valuation of intensity necessarily becomes not only a criterion of the man but also a criterion of his art; and Baudelaire, who praises Poe because "sa poésie est toujours" d'un puissant effet" (638), most values literary forms which can achieve the emotional energy he seeks in all the arts. The lyric poem, the short work in prose, fit this requirement because they are brief enough to sustain the brief moment of intensity. When Baudelaire espouses Poe's defence of the short lyric in "The Poetic Principle," he is, like many romantics, choosing the lyric as the ideal form. Again, he has in mind the same ideal when he remarks that Poe made a wise choice of "la Nouvelle" as his favourite form, because "Elle a sur le roman à vastes proportions cet" immense avantage que sa brièveté ajoute à l'intensité de l'effet" (630). This is one point, however, at which Ruskin and Baudelaire part company; throughout his works Ruskin appears to value the more "objective" literary forms, drama and epic, most highly, and although he never overtly disapproves of the lyric, whenever he judges authors, writers of lyrics, even his favourites — Wordsworth, Keats, Tennyson — are placed in the second rank (5.205n).
Since Ruskin and Baudelaire so emphasize the primacy of imagination, it is to be expected that they should consider the presence of its effects, or the sign of its workings, a necessary criterion of both great art and great poetry. Ruskin thus pointedly transfers the praise of imagination, so central to romantic poetic theory, to the criticism of painting when he states that the most important "characteristic of great art is that [296/2297] it must be inventive, that is, produced by the imagination. In this respect, it must precisely fulfil the definition given of poetry; and not only present grounds for noble emotion, but furnish these grounds by imaginative power" (5.63). Writing from an identical position, Baudelaire assumes that all artists can be divided into two camps, the imaginative and the unimaginative:
[C]elui-ci, qui s'appelle lui-meme réaliste, mot à double entente et dont le sens n'est pas bien déterminé, et que nous appellerons, pour mieux carac- tériser son erreur, un positiviste, dit: 'Je veux représenter les choses telles qu'elles sont, ou bien qu'elles seraient, en supposant que je n'existe pas. L'univers sans l'homme. Et celui-là, l'imaginatif, dit: 'Je veux illuminer les choses avec mon esprit et en projeter le rellet sur les autres esprits.' 
Ruskin agrees both that art should necessarily be discussed in these terms and that imaginative art is characterized and given value by the fact that the artist illuminates his subject with his own spirit. The author of Modern Painters parallels Baudelaire, for example, when he contrasts historical with imaginative painting: "[H]istorical or simply narrative art is very precious in its proper place and way, but it is never great art until the poetical or imaginative power touches it.... [T]he highest art is purely imaginative" (5.64-5). Whereas the unimaginative artist, according to Ruskin, must content himself with topographical studies, with simple depiction of fact, "if a painter has inventive power he is to treat his subject in a totally different way; giving not the actual facts of it, but the impression it made on his mind" (6.32). Imaginative art, says Ruskin, has "infinite advantage" over reality, over our presence at the scene depicted, because "the expression of the power and intelligence of a companionable human soul" provides a "penetrative sight and "kindly guidance" that sharpens our vision and feelings (5.187). In other words, a great painting, or a great poem, allows us, for a brief moment, to see through the eyes and imagination of one greater than ourselves.
Since Ruskin, like Baudelaire, so insists upon the importance of imagination, it is somewhat surprising that, unlike Baudelaire, he not only grants some value to unimaginative, positivist art, but praises it highly in certain contexts. His seeming lack of consistency disappears when one realizes that he believes "imaginative art always includes historical art . . . for all imagination must deal with the knowledge it has before accumulated; it never produces anything but by combination or contemplation. Creation, in the full sense, is impossible to it" (5.64). Furthermore, Ruskin not only believes "the imagination must be fed constantly by external nature" (4.288), but, because he must defend Turner against the charge of not being able to paint like nature, he is forced, particularly in the first volume of Modern Painters, to emphasize that, indeed, Tumer recorded visual fact more successfully than any previous artist. Finally, Ruskin's desire to instruct the neophyte leads him to insist that the beginning painter must learn the world of fact before he can venture into the realm of imagination:
From young artists nothing ought to be tolerated but simple bonâ fide imitation of nature.... Then, when their memories are stored, and their imaginations fed and their hands firm, let them take up the scarlet and the gold, give reins to their fancy and show us what their heads are made of. We will follow them where they choose to lead . . . they are then our masters, and are fit to be so. [3.623-4]
Baudelaire, in contrast, chooses to defend Delacroix, not as Ruskin did Turner, by stressing fact first and the higher truths of imagination second, but by proceeding directly to a defence of the imagination. This difference of strategy arises, in part, because whereas Turner's critics allowed that he was imaginative but held he could not paint accurately, Delacroix's critics apparently did not even seem to recognize the value of imaginative art. Here, as in many places, the polemical, defensive intentions of these two theorists explain their formulations of similar points.
Ruskin's and Baudelaire's emphasis on the expression of feeling in art again appears when they write about colour, which they believe to be the specifically romantic element in romantic painting. Ever polemical writers, they emphasize the importance and they stress the beauties of colour, in large part, because Turner and Delacroix had been attacked for their use of it. Ruskin thus makes the value of colour a major principle in his defence of Turner and the art of painting: "[O]n this issue hangs the nobleness of painting as an art altogether, for it is distinctively the art of colouring" (7.412). According to Ruskin, colour is important, because it speaks to the feelings, and because "it is meant for the perpetual comfort and delight of the human heart" (6.71). "Colour is, therefore, in brief terms, the type of love" (7.419). Colour, which is thus in Ruskin's view, the embodiment of feeling in visible form, is the only element of technique or visual quality that Baudelaire mentions in his definition of romanticism: "Qui dit romantisme dit art modeme, — c'est-à-dire intimité, spiritualité, couleur, aspiration vers l'infini, exprimées par tous les moyens que contiennent les arts" (103). He groups colour with attitudes or qualities of feeling and spirit, because, like Ruskin, he considers it to be feeling embodied in visible form. Moreover, in this definition of romanticism Baudelaire makes the same connection between colour, spirituality, and aspiration towards the infinite that Ruskin proposes in the second volume of Modern Painters. In the course of setting forth his [298/299] theories of beauty Ruskin explains that, because man instinctively desires the infinity that is God, he therefore finds all things beautiful which symbolize, or exemplify, such divine infinity. The limitless gradations of colour and curves of lines are the two sources in painting and the visual arts of what Ruskin calls the "typical beauty of infinity": 'What curvature is to lines, gradation is to shades and colours. It is their infinity, and divides them into an infinite number of degrees" (4.89). In a following section on the typical beauty of unity (the kind of beauty which symbolizes "The Divine Comprehensiveness" [4.92]), Ruskin adds that such infinite variety is most beautiful when it forms the "unity of Sequence . . . [which is] the melody of sounds, the continuity of lines, and the orderly succession of motions and times" (4.94-5). The gradations of colour and the beautiful unities which they form are, according to Ruskin, a source of beauty for which man instinctively yearns and which he instinctively enjoys. Although Baudelaire does not have such a theological version of the old notion of unity and variety which he applies to colour, he does arrive at much the same conclusion about the unity and infinity of colour: "La couleur est compée de masses colorées qui sont faites d'une infinité de tons, dont l'harmonie fait l'unité" (147).
Because both writers stress the harmonic arrangements and melodic variations of color in visible beauty, they have frequent occasion to write about music as a second sister art to painting. Baudelaire, for example, follows an elaborate paysage verbal with the following extended analogy between visual and musical beauties: "Cette grand symphonie du jour, qui est l'éternelle variation de la symphonie d'hier, cette succession de mélodies, où la variété sort toujours de l'infini, cet hymne compliqué s'appelle la couleur. On trouve dans la couleur l'harmonie, la mélodie, et le contrepoint" (160). Ruskin, who frequently draws analogies between music and painting, particularly when he wishes to emphasize the irrational, hidden aspects of creation describes painting as "playing a colour violin . . . and inventing your tune as you play it" (15.416). (For other music-colour analogies made by Baudelaire see: 327, 147, 148, 136, and 129: others made by Ruskin: 15.135, 15.432-3, 10.215, 14.26, 20.203.)
Their defence of colourists leads Ruskin and Baudelaire from the artist's work to a theory of colour and thence to the social implications of colour itself. One conclusion they draw is that the romantic artist must use colour, the element of feeling, to combat the inherent greyness of the times in which he lives. Ruskin, for example, contrasts the brightness, the life, the intensity — the colour — of the middle ages with the colourlessness of the nineteenth century:
[I]t is evident that the title 'Dark Ages,' given to the mediaeval centuries, is, respecting art, wholly inapplicable. They were, on the contrary, the bright ages; ours are the dark ones. I do not mean metaphysically, but literally. They were the ages of gold; ours are the ages of umber.... [W]e build brown brick walls, and wear brown coats . . . There is, however, also some cause for the change in our tempers. On the whole, these are much sadder ages than the early ones; not sadder in a noble and deep way, but in a dim wearied way, — the way of ennui, and jaded intellect, and uncomfortableness of soul and body. The Middle Ages had their wars and agonies, but also intense delights. Their gold was dashed with blood; but ours is sprinkled with dust. Their life was inwoven with white and purple: ours is one seamless stuff of brown. [5.321-2]
Without Ruskin's nostalgic mediaevalism, Baudelaire says much the same things when he comments upon the greyness of modern dress:
N'est-il pas l'habit nécessaire de notre époque, souffrante et portant jusque sur ses épaules noires et maigres le symbole d'un deuil perpétuel? Remarquez bien que l'habit noir et la redingote ont non seulement leur beauté politique, qui est l'expression de l'égalité universelle, mais encore leur beauté poétique, qui est l'expression de l'âme publique; — une immense défilade de croque- morts, croque-morts politiques, croque-morts amoureux, croque-morts bourgeois. Nous célébrons tous quelque enterrement. 
The seamless stuff of brown, the perpetual mourning, the ennui and jaded intellect of modern life are finally, of course, what makes the art of Turner and Delacroix, the gift of their colour, life, and feeling, so precious to Ruskin and Baudelaire — precious because so needed and so wanting, so necessary and yet so misunderstood. Merely by adding bright reds and deep blues, intense colours, to a bleak modern land- and cityscape, these men are, in a sense, prophets and seers. To be one of the great artists, then, a painter must not only be sincere, intense, and imaginative, but he must also bring colour, the element of feeling, to his work. [300/301]
Last modified 27 November 2004