Essay On Art For Arts Sake

That the function of the arts is to teach was an idea almost universally held in Europe before the seventeenth century. According to Indian Poetics, their object Vas considered to be the evocation of trance or, an aesthetic emotion-a thrilling or beatific sensation roused by the appeal of beauty through transport to a different world of pleasure.

The French critics of the seventeenth century asserted that pleasure is the end that art strives to communicate, but this is different from the Indian theory. It was in the nineteenth century that European poets and critics came to assert the concept of the concept of art, - that are exists for its own sake, and its justification must be sought in something apart from its effect on human mind. If it does produce pleasure, it is only to be looked upon as a by-product.

Thus, art may be taken to mean the perfect mode of expressing the perfect. Its mission is fulfilled when beauty is realised.

Apart from that, Art has no existence. Recalling the Platonic doctrine of Beauty, the modern exponents of the doctrine of art for art's sake, assume that there exists in the mind of the artist what Keats called "the Mighty Abstract Idea of Beauty", and his function is to embody this idea in a satisfactory form.

The perfection of a work of art, therefore, depends on the extent to which the formal expression has been able to approximate to the Abstract Idea. The clearer this image is in the mind of the artist; more satisfactory is its transmission in the work of the work of art. Hence, the artist must devote himself to chisel, polish and refine his work until perfect approximation of form to idea is achieved. This approximation towards perfection' is to be achieved for no ulterior object, but for itself only; the artistic form is its own justification.

The consequence of such a theory was to attach greater impor­tance to the form to the content, to the sensual than to the intellectual comprehension of an idea or an image. That is why Pater and his disciples attached greater importance to the style than to the substance, to the aesthetic.

Style is the distilled quintessence of art-expression, since it is by style alone that an expression gains perfection, and an inner experience is most satisfactorily expressed. There is, no doubt, that the exponents of this theory did a world of good by drawing attention to the need for attending to style.

The quality of expression in any art, it was emphasised, depended as much on the clarity of the artists perception— as on the mastery over the material. That is why the aesthetics are so fastidious about minute details and the correct choice of words. If the experience is unique, only the perception of the details make it so, and for every unique experience there can be only one way of rendering it exactly. This is the basis of the theory of art for art's sake' and of pure poetry".

While it has encouraged greater attention to the craftsmanship of poetry which looks upon the poet as a maker", a 'builder' with words, it has certainly led to the growth of what is called the ivory tower' attitude to life.

Expression becomes lifeless when it is viewed apart from its object; for unless there is the bond of reciprocity between the artist and those who view his art, the expression becomes cold and mechanical. It may please or amuse for a moment.

For the true artist, to introduce any purpose in his art is, as Tennyson has symbolically narrated in his poem- "The Lady of Shallot', would be fatal. Ruskin, that great Victorian exponents of art, was firmly of opinion that art should have a moral purpose.

But there is a worse evil. The pure artist glorifies his art until it transcends life. Hence arises such paradoxical views as 'virtue is the product of art' (Baudeliare); and that the object of life is to imitate art (Wilede). Such ideas tend to formalise life into a pattern of beauty.

All art must be, in the first place, a reflection of changing social order, and consciousness; and secondly, a creative influence on human mind. The end and object of art is the Social Man. and whatever ignores this basic fact, destroys the impulse out of which art is born. Art is great, but life is greater than art end so the artist must for ever strive to envisage, comprehend and express the totality of life.


One of my most widely read (and/or infamous) posts is Art for Art’s Sake: There’s No Such Thing. The thrust of that essay was that art always does something and is always for someone and so the concept of art for art’s sake, while it is an acknowledgement of the power of art is, taken at face value, a meaningless and perhaps unhelpful concept. Before I go on let me reiterate that I am wholly in sympathy with the phrase’s intent of celebrating the vital importance of the arts.

Over the last year I’ve seen a number of references to on the one hand the importance of maintaining the purity of intent that AfAS conveys and on the other hand the potential dangers of promoting the concept. Coming down (substantially) on the latter side, let me present here a brief segment from one of my presentations that address the question.

When I taught music, I would use one of the profession’s most closely held truisms to challenge my students’ understanding of the field. “Music is the universal language” is a sentence repeated with the reverence of scripture. It also happens to be false. Music is universal, but its language, grammar, and syntax are not. Traditional Chinese opera is as foreign and incomprehensible to Western ears as Strauss’s tone poems are to aboriginal peoples. That does not diminish either. It simply forces us to question what we mean by “music is universal.”

Similarly, a truism we all hold precious is the merit of “art for art’s sake.” It is a shorthand for art being important, art being meaningful. With that I whole-heartedly agree. Unfortunately, it can serve as an inadvertent barrier for those who have not felt art’s power in their own lives. For them the notion is so incomprehensible it can be off-putting the way rabid sports fans can be intimidating to those not similarly minded.

I understand why we are attracted to the concept. It springs from our appreciation of art as transcendent experience. Beyond the secret handshake aspect of it, however, the real danger is that it has led some to lose sight of the fact that the arts provide transcendent human experience. The “art for art’s sake” mindset can imply that it is the art that is important. It is not. This perspective can also function as an excuse, conscious or not, for ignoring community. These “artcentric” views need addressing.

The question, as I would frame it in this context, is “Do we serve a what or a whom?” Many of our mission statements are mostly or entirely focused on a what–the art that is the medium of our work. Consider this, while serving art may be what’s in the front of our minds, doing so

1) is not at heart what many of us really want to do,

Most artists are invested in their work because they want other people to share the joy they experience in it. While this may look or feel like focus on the art, their core purpose grows out of the impact of that art on people.

and 2) is a pretty strange thing to do.

Divorced from art’s impact (or potential impact) on others, serving art is–let’s be frank–a kind of idolatry.

The concept of art for art’s sake is a self-evident truth for all of us (and, again, I include myself here) for whom it is self-evident. However, for the many who are not true believers the concept is either incomprehensible, off-putting, or both. I worry that emphasis on this much-loved, long-held concept can get in the way of them taking advantage of the benefits and the value that the arts can provide. And that would be a tragedy.



Filed Under: PrinciplesTagged With: arts, community engagement, Intrinsic

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