Aestheticism 1868 – 1900

The 19th-century theory that art, whether visual or literary, is self-sufficient and need have no moral or social purpose The doctrine is most succinctly expressed in the phrase ‘l’art pour l’art’ (art for art’s sake) attributed to the French philosopher Victor Cousin (1792–1867) in his lectures on Le Vrai, le beau et le bien (1818, published 1836) Wider dissemination came with the publication of Madamoiselle de Maupin (1835) by Thèophile Gautier who, in the preface, goes further than Cousin by suggesting that any moral purpose is injurious to art Aestheticism flourished in England from the 1870s to the 1890s, its principal theorists being Walter Pater, in the conclusion to The Renaissance (1873), and Oscar Wilde The latter’s assertion, under cross-examination, that there was no such thing as an immoral book was probably one of the factors that led to his imprisonment and his subsequent disgrace signalled the movement’s decline The foremost practitioners in painting were Whistler and Albert Moore The former’s habit of giving his works musical titles (Nocturne in Black and Gold, 1877; Detroit, Inst of Arts) is symbolic of the Aesthetic movement’s desire to emulate music, the most abstract, and therefore purest, of the arts

Aestheticism (also the Aesthetic Movement) is an intellectual and art movement supporting the emphasis of aesthetic values more than social-political themes for literature, fine art, music and other arts This meant that Art from this particular movement focused more on being beautiful rather than having a deeper meaning – ‘Art for Art’s sake’ It was particularly prominent in Europe during the 19th century, supported by notable figures such as Oscar Wilde, but contemporary critics are also associated with the movement, such as Harold Bloom, who has recently argued against projecting social and political ideology onto literary works, which he believes has been a growing problem in humanities departments over the last century

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In the 19th century, it was related to other movements such as symbolism or decadence represented in France, or decadentismo represented in Italy, and may be considered the British version of the same style

Artists associated with the Aesthetic style include James McNeill Whistler, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Aubrey Beardsley Although the work of Edward Burne-Jones was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery which promoted the movement, it also contains narrative and conveys moral or sentimental messages hence it falls outside the given definition

The primary element of Decorative Art is utility The maxim ‘Art for Art’s Sake’, identifying art or beauty as the primary element in other branches of the Aesthetic Movement, especially Fine Art, cannot apply in this context Decorative art must first have utility but may also be beautiful Decorative art is dissociated from Fine Art

Important elements of the Aesthetic Movement have been identified as Reform and Eastern Art The Government Schools of Design were founded from 1837 onwards in order to improve the design of British goods Following the Great Exhibition of 1851 efforts were intensified and Oriental objects purchased for the schools teaching collections Owen Jones, architect and Orientalist was requested to set out key principles of design and these became not only the basis of the schools teaching but also the propositions which preface The Grammar of Ornament (1856), which is still regarded as the finest systematic study or practical sourcebook of historic world ornament