The Flâneur

To support my continuing learning and to critically understand the meaning of the everyday I needed to gather relevant information about the everyday. I did this through a number of avenues with cultural theorists and in literature. It was important to return to my original aims -i.e to develop a critical understanding of my research theme that supports my practical work. It also helped me to broaden my understanding about why I was doing a particular drawing, perhaps some areas in my practice I had taken for granted without really questioning what I was doing in my work.

One distinct idea that immediately appealed in relation to my research theme, was the flâneur. This term described a 19th century  French literary character, essential to any picture of the streets of Paris. The word itself was associated with: the man of leisure, the idler, the urban explorer, the connoisseur of the street. What interested me was the idea of illustrating the urban world through the perspective of this individual. There is a certain visual narrative that that could be potentially quite interesting.

Fig.1 The Flâneur

I was drawn to  Walter Benjamin’s book  ‘The Flâneur’, Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, which examines the idea of the flâneur in relation to the work of the important Parisian lyric poet, Charles Baudelaire. The flâneur is an urban observer set in Paris of the 19th century on the brink of modernity. The focus is the individual’s experience of the everyday in an urban environment. This notion gave me a number of interesting ideas for my practical work, like contrasting perspectives of urban life in Dublin. How does the individual experience the everyday? How to depict this in my work? The illustrator I mentioned in previous post Lyndon Hayes captures this eloquently in his ‘People of London Drawings’.

This concept of the Flâneur is followed with movements like the Urban Sketcher, consisting of a global community of artists who practice on-location drawings of urban settings over the world. Again I like this idea of the individual’s perspective show through drawing, an interpretation of the world. What is also appealing is the idea of seeing the world through another perspective.

Its important to note that Benjamin was one of the most important cultural commentators and theorists of the 20th century. The theme of the flâneur is explored in dept in his seminal work The Arcades Project (1999).

List of Figures:

Fig.1  Paul Gavarni, Le Flâneur, 1842

Reference list:

Benjamin, Walter (1997) ‘The Flâneur’, Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, trans. Zohn, Harry, New York and London: Verso Books.

Related links:

The Arcades Project Project: The Flaneur

The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris (2001) by Edmund White

Women’s Passages, a Bildungsroman of female flânerie. (2005) by Karen Van Godtsenhoven


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