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Can there really be "art for art"

The slogan "art for art’s sake" arose in the 19th century with the core ethos being that art, true art is divorced, separated, alien from function, any and all functions.

But with this philosophy, there is room for critique, after all nothing is created in a bubble and artists are influenced by their society and as such so are their works.

Does art always have a message? Should it?

Many Marxist thinkers would argue art must have a meaning and purpose but even non-Marxists have levied criticism at this school of thought.

Is Art for Art’s sake a philosophy that is unfairly maligned? Is it a cynical defense from critique?

  • I think it’s also interesting to explore when we define that someone is to be considered an artist. As we age it’s much more difficult to explore things separated from fiction but as children there is a much more free exploration of art that is disconnected from our adult analysis. Is this something we are only able to harness in childhood? If so, is “art for arts sake” something we are trying to reconnect with in adulthood? – Denise Zubizarreta 9 months ago
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  • If one were to write about this topic, I believe they would absolutely need to mention Oscar Wilde. In the preface to Picture of Dorian Gray, he writes that "all art is quite useless". By trying to give a spin to the word "useless" -- and make it a word that doesn't necessarily have a negative connotation -- he responds to the idea that art should have a purpose, and instead suggests that it can simply be purposeful for its aesthetic qualities. I therefore don't believe that "art fort art's sake" is merely a cynical defense from critique. It simply asks you to critique it under different criteria! – chloew 9 months ago
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  • When I hear the phrase 'Art for art's sake' I think of two people: James Hampton and Henry Darger--the former not to be confused with James Hampton the actor (who plays Dad Wolf in Teen Wolf), and the latter not to be confused with Jeffrey Dahmer. These two persued making art that they seemingly never intended to show to anyone; the art they constructed had no audience, no person in mind. James built religious inspired structures out of trash, the finished products of which he kept in a rented garage. No one else laid eyes on his creations until he passed away and his landlord found them. His works are now kept in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Henry Darger wrote a 15,145-page novel accompanied by extremely detailed images and tracings he made himself. His works were not discovered until shortly before his death, oddly enough, ALSO by his landlords (there's no significance to the landlord thing, just coincidence... I hope). This all goes to say that this could be a pretty interesting avenue for an interpretation of 'Art for art's sake' to take a stroll down. I'm cringing DEEP into myself for what I'm about to type but, in a world where the ability to share everything we create is democratised so that audiences are readily available to consume it, stories about outliers such as these call into question the very purpose of art itself. So, that doesn't really answer the question 'can you really have art for art?'. But I think the question James and Henry tease out is 'without an audience can art even exist?' – JM 7 months ago
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