The aim of this research paper is to trace the origin and development of Art for art’s sake movement from Marxist perspective. The origin of Art for art’s movement can be traced back to the late Romanticists who felt themselves misfit in the post-revolutionary bourgeois world of business, profit and industrialisation of the Patriarchal countryside of Europe. Therefore, an insoluble contradiction occurred between the aims of the late Romanticist artists and writers and the conditions of the Post-revolutionary bourgeois capitalist world. However, they became hostile to it, but failed to see any hope of changing it.
The employment of Marxist literary hermeneutics in analysing Art for art’s sake movement yields the result that the apostles of this movement express their disharmony with the bourgeois capitalist social formation. They refuse to be commodity producer in the bourgeois publishing industry, in which an author is a labourer or commodity producer for those consumers whom he does not see. However, the apostles of this movement failed to introduce new modes of literary production as well as to change the bourgeois social formation. The present research study highlights the purpose, rise and fall of Art for art’s sake movement in an innovative Marxist perspective.
Key Terms: absolute autonomy of art, useful art, idealism, bourgeois publishing industry, modes of literary production
Romanticism developed into ‘’L’ art pour l’ art’’ or Art for art’s sake movement in the Post-revolutionary bourgeois world side by side with realism whose chief target was to explore and criticise the bourgeois social formation. In fact, Art for art’s sake movement was an attitude adopted by the literary writers, poets and the artists, which was also a protest against the vulgarization of values, dirty core of profit and business, commonplace utilitarianism of everything. It protested against philistine materialism and the bourgeois ‘Religion of Progress’ (Valery, P., 1938, Pp. 79-98), roughness of the stereotyped world of reality, “orthodoxy of philosophical systems, fixed points of view, and dreary business and commercial pre-occupations of the smug world of the bourgeoisie. It was also a reaction of literary men and the artists against the old-styled didacticism of the new liberal and socialist pre-requisite, according to which, art and literature should serve morality, progress and utopia, and to instruct many officials and economic management. The protest of the artists, and literary men in the form of Art for art’s sake movement reflected their disharmony with the bourgeois capitalist social formation; they expressed their denial to be commodity producers in the bourgeois publishing industry, selling their heartfelt masterpieces of art as saleable commodities in the bourgeois capitalist market. In the bourgeois capitalist world, everyman turned into commodity producer and everything saleable commodity.
Therefore, the socio-economic conditions of capitalism reflected a growing apprehension and hostility of an alienated minority of the artists and writers towards the bourgeois capitalism accompanying the rise of the petti-bourgeoisie and the spread of democracy. The rise of the sentiment towards freedom of expressions and protest against the monarchy and the bourgeois class approached at its zenith in the middle of 19th century in Europe. The masses of the common people started demanding their own choice of expression and liberty of freedom from the traditional doctrine. The freedom of expression became the foundation stone for the period. French Revolution gave birth to the new bourgeois social relations, bourgeois publishing industry along with the various bourgeois literary modes of production. In short, the development of capitalism as one of the modes of production, dominating all of the social formation makes human pursuit, the social relations unbearably abstract, unsensuous, and incapable of being shaped into art. Capitalism’s social division of labour, the dominance of the exchange relationship over all the aspects of human life, and the fetishism of all life forms that necessarily follows surrounds the artist with an environment to which he cannot relate in a naïve-immediate way, delighting in his world and producing his art joyously. “The tragedy of the artist in bourgeois society-from which tragedy the whole of the l’ art pour art movement stems-lies in the fact that precisely this relation of immediacy, the bases of the artistic attitude towards reality, is disturbed, indeed made impossible” ( Bewes, T and Timothy H., 2011, p. 159). In this way, capitalism replaced the feudal modes of literary production with the new bourgeois modes of literary production reducing the status of an artist to a labourer in the bourgeois publishing industry. The This situation gave birth to Art for Art’s Sake movement, which became the fountainhead of the new style, thoughts and sentiments, leading to the influence in every field of fine arts, including the field of design. James McNeill Whistler wrote that “a new class who discovered the cheap, and foresaw facture of sham” (Whistler, J. M., 2012, pp. 135-59).
For the aesthete, beauty is an escape and refuge from reality while he claims this he was prompting an indulgence in the decadent archaic and the morbid. Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed “The Death of God”, turning the apostles of Art for art’s sake movement towards the occult and the transcended to make a thoroughly spiritualized and idealised art substitute for the old belief. In this respect, the aesthetes defined and defended the paramount value, self-sufficiency, independence and autonomy of art and literature. This idea of independence of art and literature was, of course, far from new. Usually it has been traced back to the English Romantics to De Quincy, Herbert Spencer, John Keats and Walter Pater to the Germans to Arthur Schopenhauer, Immanuel Kant, and Friedrich Shiller. Herbert Spencer in his book “Principles of Psychology” tried to adopt Friedrich Schiller’s idea of play impulse (Spencer. H, 1855, Chapter X1 ), which he derived from Immanuel Kant because Friedrich Schiller’s such ideas as play impulse, sense impulse and form impulse are based upon neo-Kantianism. De Quincy’s essay “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts” (1827) and John Keats’ following lines are early aesthetic points of view:
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’----that is all”
Ye know on earth and all ye need to know” (Keats, J., 1990, lines 49-50, p. 289).
In addition, the traces of this movement may be found in the works of the English Romanticist poets St. Coleridge, Swinburne, the members of Yellow Book Group, the German Goethe, Schiller, Winckelmann and Otto Ludwig, the French, Gustave Flaubert, Theodor de Banvilli, Leconte de Lisle and Paul Valéry, and the Russian Alexander Pushkin and Ostrovsky.
The early traces of Art for art’s sake movement may be found in the late romantic poets and writers such as Herbert Spencer, John Keats, De Quincy, Walter Pater, Arthur Schopenhauer, Immanuel Kant, and Friedrich Shiller. The Art for art’s sake movement was based on Immanuel Kant’s idealism. This movement spread throughout Europe. The book on the subject, which is worth mentioning, is Rose R. Egan’s book entitled “The Genesis of the Theory of Art for Art’s Sake Movement in Germany and England” (Northampton, 1921). This is the full-length study of the movement and very important in many respects.
In addition, the Marxist literary critics felt it contrary to Marxist theory of aesthetics. Georgi Plekhanov, the most eminent Russian Marxist philosopher and literary critic analysed it from Marxist point of view in “On ‘Art for Art’s Sake’ in his book entitled “Unaddressed Letters and Art and Social Life” (Moscow, 1957). Ernest Fischer, the most famous Austrian Marxist leader and literary critic also do so in “L’ art pour l’’ art” in his book entitled “The Necessity of Art” (London: Penguin Books, 1984). These pieces on the movement under discussion are very thought provoking example of the Marxist analysis of the movement. The focus on Art for Art’s sake movement, the works of research in the area of his literary output such as, the study of the Emergence Art for Art’s Sake movement from Marxist Perspective have been very scant. In order to fill this gap, the present study proposes to take up an evaluative Marxist critical study of Art for Art’s Sake movement.
The doctrine of Art-for-Art's-sake movement which, sprung in France at the middle of the nineteenth-century, promulgated in the writings of Theophile Gautier (1811 - 1872), Theodor de Banvilli (1823-91) and Leconte de Lisle (1818-94). It was transplanted to Germany by Goethe, Schiller, Winckelmann and Otto Ludwig, to England by James McNeill Wistler, Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde and the members of the Yellow Book Group, and to Russia by Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov and Ostrovsky refused the moral, political, social and utilitarian functions of art and literature. In their view art and literature are neither influenced by the society nor do influence it. They are self-autonomous, independent and self-sufficient and their function is only to provide aesthetic pleasure. The idealism of Immanuel Kant provided philosophical and ideological bases to the doctrine of the movement. His claim of the disinterestedness of the intuitions or the imagination (Kant, I., 1982, Pp. 42-43) is kept on further by Arthur Schopenhauer. He was of the opinion that ‘an absolute’ art keeps the mind off from despicable life and get it from its bondage to the will. Since, music is a spiritual or immaterial art as well as independent of the spatial-temporal material world. In his book “The World as a Will and Idea”, he proclaimed that, “In song, desire and perception of surroundings presented are wonderfully mingled with each other the subjective disposition, the affection of will parts its own hues to contemplated surroundings communicate the reflex of their colour to will” (Schopenhauer, A., 1909, p. 323). He further said that, “to become like music is the aspiration of all arts” (Schopenhauer, A., 1909, p. 323).This is echoed by Friedrich Nietzsche in “The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music” and by Walter Pater in his remarks, “All arts are constantly aspire towards the condition of music” (Pater, W., 1873).
Benjamin Constant used the phrase “art for, and without purpose” in his diary in 1804, while reporting in Weimar with Henry Crabb Robinson, who told him about the aesthetic view point of Immanuel Kant. However, the Germans never involved of course, into the illusion of surrendering social, moral, and metaphysical claims of art and literature by the self-sufficiency and autonomy of them. They did not mean anything like the “uselessness” flaunted by Theophile Gautier, Walter Pater and James McNeill Whistler. They, no doubt, had known these theories in general terms since they were popularised in France in various versions by M. Victor Cousin (1792-1867), and Theodore Jouffroy (1796-1842). In a lecture first given in 1818 (printed in 1836) M. Victor apparently stressed the need of “religion for the sake of religion”, of “morals for the sake of morals” and of “art for the sake of art”. This is taken up and carried further by Walter Pater, whose most famous phrase “the love of art for its own sake” has served the aesthetes as a slogan implying the rejection of “heresy of instruction”. James McNeill Wistler wrote in his “Ten O’ Clock Lecture” (1885) that, “Art is selfishly occupied with her own perfection only” and has “no desire to teach”. (Whistler, J. M., 2012, Pp. 135-59). Oscar Wilde was also of the same opinion, remarking that, “They have passed into the sphere of art and science, and neither art nor science knows anything of moral approval or disapproval” (Wilde, O., 1971 a, p. 1008). Similarly, Nikolay Gogol, the most famous Russian novelist in his famous story “The Nose” (1836) poked fun at the idea of morality improving literature. Therefore, the story ended without a moral, but with the narrator sputtering into silence as he attempted to elaborate what meaning there could possibly be in an incidence about Major Kovalyov’s lost nose reincarnated as a senior civil servant.