In the nineteenth century, art epitomized the good conservative ethics of Christian sentiment. Academic artists believed that art had to be reflective of all things good like righteous conduct and noble sacrifice. Gautier popularised the slogan “Art for art’s sake” in an effort to defy this line of thought. He believed that art was valuable and needed to be treated as such.
Art was its own justification and there didn’t have to be a reason to justify it, and it definitely didn’t need moral justification. It didn’t have to be educative or political. Gautier believed that art could stand alone and it needed to be viewed as an independent creation to be valued only for the success with which it organised colour and line into something wholesome and beautiful.
Gautier believed that art served its purpose if it appealed to the eye. “Art for Art’s sake” boldly states that the success of art cannot be measured by its accuracy or the effectiveness with which it tells a story or imbibes a moral; it definitely does not entail divine purpose. It is a call for freedom from the clasps of meaning and purpose. It is an exercise in independence: the right to express oneself as one wills.
“Art for art’s sake” is subjective only to the creator and his temperament when he creates it. Its beauty lies in the fact that it is a true rendition of the artist’s talent. It does not have to conform to others needs. Oscar Wilde rightly said that when an artist begins to conform to others needs he ceases to be an artist and is reduced to a dull craftsman or tradesman.
“Art for art’s sake” was a ploy that eventually backfired. The latter part of the nineteenth century found art being discussed no longer in terms of meaning and purpose but in terms of style, colour, line, shape, space, choosing to ignore and play down any specific message, the artist might have hoped to make.
The fact is that art does not aim to be a means to an end; it is to be accepted and enjoyed on its own merits. Experts argue that such alienation of art where it is restricted to only what the artist expresses when he dedicates himself to art for art’s sake is an amalgamation of protest and pride to sustain the artist’s ego.
The idea of art for art’s sake has now ceased to be a reason for protest. It has become the essence of artistic belief. It has, however, created confusion in the mind of the artist who sees himself as a prophet who makes truth available through his art.
The truth is that art for art’s sake cannot belie the fact that there might be purpose and message in art which could be either the message the artist wishes to convey or the interpretation by the interpreter.
“Art for art’s sake” is an idea essential to safeguard the artist’s freedom of expression and the very integrity of art itself, but it must also leave room for the artist’s contribution to the society he lives in through the significance of his art.