Flaubert is to the library what Manet is to the museum. We, as artists, have created works in our respective mediums that exist in a delicate symbiosis with the art that came before us, or rather, with the limitless and expansive concept of art itself. Similar to the meticulous organization and classification of documents within a library, we construct our artistic endeavors with exactness and attention to detail.
In his novel “Bouvard and Pécuchet,” Flaubert recounts the lives of two eccentric Parisian bachelors. They realize that their shared occupation entails the duplication of various writings after being brought together by chance. They embark on a fervent pursuit of transcribing random fragments culled from a variety of sources, including tobacco pouches, tattered newspapers, torn posters, and mutilated books (both originals and forgeries, each representing the peculiarities of its respective category). As a result, the protagonists, Bouvard and Pécuchet, feel compelled to establish a systematic taxonomy for their collection by constructing tables containing numerous opposing categories. However, they face considerable challenges in correctly categorizing each item, resulting in a great deal of distress and apprehension. Despite these obstacles, they persevere, abandoning speculative endeavors in favor of faithful imitation and meticulously filling the entire page. In their eyes, all things are equal, regardless of their inherent quality: the good and the bad, the ridiculous and the sublime, the beautiful and the ugly, the insignificant and the significant. As a result, their endeavors culminate in a celebration of the statistical. According to their worldview, nothing exists beyond empirical facts and observable phenomena.
Despite the fact that Bouvard and Pécuchet may never amass a conventional library, they have essentially created a private museum. In fact, the museum plays a central role in the novel, being intricately intertwined with the characters’ interests in archaeology, geology, and history. Through the lens of the museum, Flaubert raises profound questions about origins, causation, representation, and symbolism. The museum’s epistemological foundations are deeply rooted in archaeology, as it makes representational and historical significance claims. Archaeology endeavors to embody a science of the Archés, or the primordial beginning, making its fundamental assumptions about origins inherently metaphysical.
It becomes nearly impossible to avoid drawing parallels between Bouvard and Pécuchet’s relentless pursuit of knowledge and the formidable obstacles encountered by creative individuals upon consideration of this topic. Similar to the aforementioned characters, artists continuously seek inspiration and understanding from a vast array of sources. We consult numerous references, texts, and works of art with the hope of gaining artistic insight and direction. Yet, similar to the experiences of Bouvard and Pécuchet, we are frequently caught in a web of confusing contradictions and misleading information. While attempting to navigate the inexhaustible sea of artistic possibilities, we are perpetually challenged by the tension that permeates the realms of tradition and innovation.
Nevertheless, despite the inherent difficulties and unpredictability that plague us, artists persist, driven by an innate compulsion to create, to give form to the intangible, and to capture the essence of our world. We find comfort in imitation, replication, and ultimately the creation of something wholly unique. Through these endeavors, we construct our personal museums by meticulously curating fragments of inspiration and arranging them in a way that resonates with our individual artistic vision.
We orchestrate a kaleidoscope of experiences, emotions, and observations within the sanctified confines of our individual inspiration museums. Each encounter, like a single piece of a complex puzzle, provides fleeting glimpses into the intricate tapestry of human existence. We delight in the variety of artistic expressions, valuing the multitude of ideas, styles, and influences that spark our creativity.
On our artistic excursions, we, like Bouvard and Pécuchet, are confronted with the inevitable contradictions and complexities that emerge. We are confronted with the juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness, the collision of the sublime and the ridiculous, while recognizing that a profound truth about the human condition lies within this interaction. In the act of creation, when we forge our own artistic paths, we cast off the shackles of conventional wisdom, thereby revealing the vast expanse of our imaginative capacities.
Flaubert’s depiction of Bouvard and Pécuchet exemplifies the indomitable spirit of the artist, as evidenced by his portrayal of Bouvard and Pécuchet. Unaffected by setbacks, moments of bewilderment, and self-doubt, the protagonists pursue their goals with tenacity. Instead, they repeatedly return to the act of copying, seeking solace and inspiration in the process of creation itself. They exemplify an unwavering belief in the intrinsic value of the artistic journey itself, embarking on a never-ending journey of exploration and experimentation.
As artists, we too experience moments of profound revelation, unearthing unanticipated connections or revealing hidden truths. These discoveries enrich our creative vision and inspire us to delve further into the intricate complexities of our craft. We recognize that true mastery does not result from strict adherence to a single doctrine or the following of a predetermined path, but rather from embracing the vast mosaic of influences and experiences that shape our artistic identity.
The novel of Flaubert is a poignant reminder that artistic pursuits are not isolated pursuits, but rather interconnected threads woven into the rich tapestry of human expression. Inspirational collections and private museums contribute to an expansive artistic consciousness that transcends time and space. Every brushstroke and every word we inscribe carries the weight of countless artistic legacies, imbuing them with new layers of meaning and expanding the limits of creative possibility.
Consequently, let us embrace wholeheartedly the spirit of Bouvard and Pécuchet — their unwavering zeal for creation and insatiable thirst for knowledge. Let us forge our individual artistic paths without fear of potential inconsistencies and ambiguities. By doing so, we contribute to the never-ending story of artistic exploration, inspiring future generations to embrace the beauty of the unknown and celebrate the innumerable possibilities that exist within the realms of art and imagination.
Gustave Flaubert, “Bouvard & Pécuchet” (France)
Michael Fried, “Manet’s Modernism: Or, The Face of Painting in the 1860s” (United States)
Julian Barnes, “Flaubert’s Parrot” (United Kingdom)
E.H. Gombrich, “Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation” (Austria/United Kingdom)
E.H. Gombrich, “The Story of Art” (Austria/United Kingdom)
Michel Foucault, “The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences” (France)
Susan Sontag, “On Photography” (United States)
Roland Barthes, “Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography” (France)
Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (Germany)
John Berger, “Ways of Seeing” (United Kingdom)