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Art For Art's Sake

Updated on January 2, 2010
Gustave Flaubert
Gustave Flaubert

Art For Art's Sake was the rallying cry of a group of 19th century artists, writers, and critics who formed a movement, also known as aestheticism, that defended the autonomy of art. Leaders of the movement in France were Theophile Gautier, Charles Baudelaire, and Gustave Flaubert; in England, James MacNeill Whistler, Walter Pater, and Oscar Wilde. Baudelaire cited the American poet Edgar Allan Poe as exemplifying the ideals of art for art's sake.

The movement was a reaction against the spreading blight of industrialism and the concurrent emergence of an affluent middle class with narrow utilitarian standards. Many contemporary artists and writers proclaimed that art should not serve any purpose, including representation, and opposed all theories that viewed art as didactic or as an instrument of reform. They received much of their inspiration from the romantic ideal of the artist as an especially sensitive, superior person alienated from society, and from the Kantian concept of art as having "purposiveness without purpose".

The "art for art's sake" movement defined what art ought to be... pure... and what ought to motivate the artist and how society should treat him. It held that the experience of art is in itself intrinsically valuable. The movement's ideal, the worship of beauty, was in direct opposition to the ideals of worship of contemporary society - goodness and power. Aesthetic appreciation of art called for subtle discriminations of beauty and the ability to appreciate unusual and alien things: the mysterious, the horrible, and even the criminal and satanic.

The best-known opponents of art for art's sake were John Ruskin and Leo Tolstoy. Generally, any didactic theorists who give art a function, such as the Marxists, oppose aestheticism.


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    • bearclawmedia profile image


      10 years ago from Mining Planet Earth

      It is a pity the value of any art these days is based on money. The more you can fetch the more important it is to most people. Your sentiment and observations work for me. Kind regards


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