A French history of the concept, Nietzsche’s stance, and artists of the Paleolithic
Thank you so much for these, you have really warmed the heart of this cranky old esthete...
Just wanted to share these:
“I have no sympathy with the notion that the world owes a duty to poetry, or any other art. Poetry is not a civilizer, rather the reverse, for great poetry appeals to the most primitive instincts. It is not necessarily a moralizer; it does not necessarily improve one’s character; it does not even teach good manners. It is a beautiful work of nature, like an eagle or a high sunrise. You owe it no duty. If you like it, listen to it; if not, let it alone.” Robinson Jeffers
"Great artists and writers must take part in politics only in so far as it is necessary to put up a defense against politics. There are enough prosecutors and gendarmes already, without adding to the number." Anton Chekhov
This is a masterpiece, Alice. Very grateful for your contributions.
Thank you so much
I will share it with my students!
"Ah— but Baudelaire never insists on the separation of art from its social context, and Rimbaud is inspired by the Paris Commune, scholars will retort."
"Deep in their ideologies, academics have long tried to explain away art for art’s sake in the period as a mistaken concept. Some, beholden to the more enervating strains of Marxist critique, have argued l’art pour l’art can be understood as market-driven, as though art is no different from journalism or factory parts. Still others have written off the Parnassian and Symbolist movements as forebears of Surrealism in their shunning of “real life”—in favour, presumably, of some other, fake sort of life. If this critique sounds resolutely utilitarian, that’s because it is. Today’s academics will tend to argue that art for art’s sake is nonviable because they are desperate to see their own work as socially responsible."
Who are these scholars and academics, Alice? As much as I appreciate your general line of critique of a certain utilitarian attitude towards the arts (I'm not sure how "mainstream" it really is though; it depends which culture you're referring to), you would be far more compelling - not to mention helpful to those who simply want to learn more - if you provided references/citations to these scholars/academics who apparently claim that art for art's sake is "nonviable" because "they are desperate to see their own work as socially responsible."
That is a baffling text you shared with us. I absolutely love it.
I could add that defending "art for art's sake" may also have an anti-capitalist goal; meaning that artists could be recognised for themselves, and not "artwork per artwork" and eventually, live with better social conditions than the gruesome ones most of them face on a daily basis.
But that's the radical leftist musician talking here, haha.
Thanks so much for your insights and thoughts!
I found your essay incisive, lucid, and occasionally thrilling. You said exactly what the moment needs, and you said it with superb conciseness. I thought the least I could do was to write and say so.
I read your piece in Tablet and was greatly impressed. A lifelong artist, I found your clear-eyed look at the place of so much Art in contemporary society to be refreshing. The above essay is more fully academic and perhaps leans a tad too much on literary/philosophical references as counterpoint to the visual arts. Moreover, "art for art's sake" can be over-stated as a totem for aesthetic positioning. What continues to puzzle me - aside from the cultural and gender obsessions that you so well discuss - are the very obvious hypocrisies, present among those whose professional goals embrace the utilitarianism of Art, in their personal lifestyles and the very institutional grandeur they operate in. Social media bears a large chunk of responsibility for recent changes I suppose, but these times seem to also reveal a dumbing-down culturally. Granted more humans than ever are now part of social interactions but more than ever are also addicted to materialistic excess and nonstop entertainment, not to mention modern parenting trends meant to democratize everything so that all kids are winners. Science is handing all of us more information than we can likely process, but it is also illuminating the almost incomprehensible scale and complexity of existence. This reality has always been the backdrop for Art, for artistic activity, and in that sense the creative activity has always been reflective of that source.
"'Art for art's sake' means art for our sake." - Walter Darby Bannard, Aphorisms for Artists
This is one of the best things I've read in ages, thank you.