Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone



Now that increasing numbers of people are stuck at home and sheltering in place, I figured I’d do a little series. Every weekday for the duration of this intense period, I’ll post a short definition of some term in/related to aesthetics and philosophy of art. Let’s see how this goes! See them all here.

This week is another grab bag of important terms and phrases. Yay!

Terms of Art #36:
l’art pour l’art (art for art’s sake)

Pronunciation: It’s French so… it’s sort of like “l-ar poor l-ar” but where the “r”s are all Frenchy in your throat, so it’s almost halfway to “lah poo-uh lah.” Maybe just to go with the English instead.

Definition: L’art pour l’art is a saying from the 19th century. Literally: “art for art,” more helpfully: “art for art’s sake.” It can mean a few different things:
(1) Art shouldn’t be held to standards of practical usefulness. So, art shouldn’t be judged based on its convenience or expense, and it doesn’t need to go with the flow of society or please the public.
Fuck pleasant pedestrian art! Art can and should be radical, difficult, esoteric!

(2) Artists should not be motivated to create art by any of these standards.
True artists don’t give a shit about their audience!

(3) Art shouldn’t be held to standards of ANYTHING besides pure form. Not its emotional impact, not its moral or political message, nothing.
It’s just lines and colors with no real message – awesome!

(4) Artists should not be motivated to create art by any of these standards.
True artists don’t give a shit about their audiences OR emotions OR morality OR politics!

And check it out: the latter two are closely related to formalism. (That’s not a coincidence.)

So everyone nowadays thinks this is right?
Not. Even. Close. People mostly object to (3) and (4). Because COME ON some art really is great because it contains important truths and perspectives on life! If that’s not the point of art, then what even is??

And get real, artists can’t actually be motivated in these pure ways. For emotions and history and morality and politics to play NO ROLE in what you’re doing as an artist… Pfft, don’t be naive.

Related term:
ars gratia artis – the reverse-Latinization of “art for art’s sake” that never existed in ancient Rome because the whole idea is from the 19th century and wouldn’t have really made sense back then. But Latin sounds way fancier than English or even French so…lart

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