ART FOR ART'S SAKE SYNOPSIS
The phrase 'art for art's sake' condenses the notion that art has its own value and should be judged apart from any themes which it might touch on, such as morality, religion, history, or politics. It teaches that judgements of aesthetic value should not be confused with those proper to other spheres of life. The idea has ancient roots, but the phrase first emerged as a rallying cry in 19th century France, and subsequently became central to the. Although the phrase has been little used since, its legacy has been at the heart of 20th century ideas about the autonomy of art, and thus crucial to such different bodies of thought as those of , modernism, and the avant-garde. Today, deployed more loosely and casually, it is sometimes put to very different ends, to defend the right of free expression, or to appeal for art to uphold tradition and avoid causing offense.
MOST IMPORTANT ART
Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket (1874)
The American-born painter James Whistler was a central figure in Britain's late 19th century Aesthetic movement, which made 'art for art's sake' its rallying cry. Color and mood were crucial to his art, his paintings often bordering on abstraction. His titles, like that for Nocturne in Black and Gold, often emphasized these formal qualities, over and above the ostensible subject of the picture, which in this case is a fireworks display on the River Thames in London. His titles also often borrowed musical terms such as 'nocturne' and 'harmony', thereby insisting on painting's relationship to the arts in general, rather than its relationship to the outside world. When he exhibited Nocturne at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877, the critic John Ruskin accused him of "flinging a pot of paint in the public's face." Whistler famously responded by suing Ruskin for libel, and though he won the case, he was awarded only a tiny amount in damages, and the huge costs he incurred later led to his bankruptcy.
Oil on wood - Detroit Institute of Arts
Romanticism and the 19th Century
The phrase 'art for art's sake', or l'art pour l'art, first surfaced in French literary circles in the early 19th century. In part it was a reflex of thedesire to detach art from the period's increasing stress on rationalism. These forces, it was believed, threatened to make art subject to demands for its utility - for usefulness of one kind or another. The phrase was taken up by writer Theophile Gautier and subsequently attracted the support of figures such as , and . When the phrase reached Britain it became popular in the Aesthetic Movement, which encompassed painters such as and , and writers such as and .
Modernism and the 20th Century
The association between the phrase 'art for art's sake' and the Aesthetic Movement meant that, when that movement declined, the popularity of the phrase declined with it. Nevertheless, it continued to be used - though more casually and loosely - and the idea it compresses continued to be important. The idea likely contributed to the development ofas well. For example, notion of 'significant form' argued that form in art was expressive and meaningful apart from any objects it might serve to depict (and, therefore, it was of value regardless of the objects it depicted). In this respect 'art for art's sake' was an important impetus behind the development of abstract art and , and it had an afterlife in the high modernist theories of critics such as and .
Opponents of Art for Art's Sake
The idea that art should not be judged by other criteria, such as religion or politics, has inevitably attracted occasional opponents who
either wished it to support a particular cause, or refrain from expressing particular views. But in the 20th century, 'art for art's sake'
attracted more consistent opposition from a series of avant-gardes who reacted against the perceived insularity of abstract art, and sought
instead to reconnect art and life. One can trace such opposition in movements as diverse as the
Art for Art's Sake BOOKS AND ONLINE RESOURCES
|Art for Art's Sake: Aestheticism in Victorian Painting||Art for Art's Sake and Literary Life: How Politics and Markets Helped Shape the Ideology and Culture of Aestheticism, 1790-1990|
|The Aesthetic Movement|
Art For Art's Sake
By Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe