L’art pour l’art

Here’s a snippet of thought on the Walter Benjamin reading from today’s presentation:

Benjamin clearly doesn’t like the idea of art created purely for aesthetic purposes; although he’s insistent on the “aura” of art, he abhors the idea of art having no use other than existence. To him, art without purpose is a fascistic notion, especially since it glamorizes the destruction of war. The problem with this interpretation is that art can still be created for its own sake now and it causes no wars, no suffering. Quite honestly, it seems like the Aesthetic movement, where this idea took hold, was far too languid and hedonistic to ever feel the need to be involved in a war.

Walter Benjamin also refers to a certain slogan of the fascist Futurists to support the idea that art for its own sake is inherently destructive. While in the context of its time, the phrase “let art exist, though the world perish” likely endorses destruction after all, it says something completely different to me. It seems to suggest that art will go on through destruction and will exist long after man has left the world. Rather than vying for destruction, it talks about the infinity of art. While this is surely not its intended meaning, it is the one I see reflected in these words.

However, I do agree that the notion of art for art’s sake as a whole is entirely unmanageable in reality. Without purpose, art is hard to enjoy. If I can’t invest myself emotionally into a work of art or find some relevance in it to myself, or even to the surrounding world, then I find it unnecessary. Art should solicit reaction, whether political, emotional, or simply an appreciation of skill. Saying that art should stand stoically on its own and not relate to the world takes the enjoyment out of it. Walter Pater, in The Renaissance, talks about achieving the greatest amount of pleasure and the highest quality experience out of art; however, he also believes in the aesthetic principle of l’art pour l’art. This seems to me like a contradiction of terms. To achieve the highest quality experience would mean to relate or to invest oneself in the work – but then, aren’t you also drawing use out of art? Thus, enjoyment invalidates the phrase.



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