Art for art's sake

From Academic Kids

"Art for art's sake" is the usual English rendition of a French slogan, ''l'art pour l'art'', which is credited to Théophile Gautier (1811–1872).

Gautier was not the first to write those words — they appear in the works of Benjamin Constant — but he was the first to adopt them as a slogan. "Art for art's sake" was a bohemian creed in the nineteenth century, a slogan raised in defiance of those who — from John Ruskin to the much later Communist advocates of socialist realism — thought that the value of art was to serve some moral or didactic purpose. Art for art's sake affirmed that art was valuable as art, that artistic pursuits were their own justification, and that art did not need moral justification — and indeed, was allowed to be morally subversive.

The slogan is associated in the history of English art and letters with Walter Pater, and his followers in the Aesthetic Movement, which was self-consciously in rebellion against Victorian moralism.

The Latin version of the slogan, "ars gratia artis", is used as a slogan by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and appears in the oval around the roaring lion's head in their motion picture logo.

It is well to remember that "art for art's sake" is a European construct and a product of the industrial revolution. For example, in many cultures, image-making is a religious practice. Before photography, but after the rise of a middle class in Europe, art was not only "decorative," it was the way that people documented what things looked like.

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