Reader's Encyclopedia

art for art's sake

English equivalent of the French l'art pour l'art, which is embodied in The Poetic Principle by Edgar Allan Poe:

There neither exists nor can exist any work more thoroughly dignified ... than the poem which is a poem and nothing more -- the poem written solely for the poem's sake.

The doctrine which this represents, that the aim of art should be creation and the perfection of technical expression rather than the service of a moral, political, or didactic end, had been evolving ever since the romantic period. It was adumbrated by Coleridge and given early expression by Poe in the above treatise, flowered among the French symbolist poets and their English associate Walter Pater, and reached its culmination in surrealism and the aesthetic theory of I. A. Richards. It was the dominant theory of art and especially of poetry until the 1930s, when the proletarian and Marxist movements in literature threatened for a time to revive the 18th-century didactic theories. After the beginning of World War II in 1939, the latter movements began to lose much of their influence.

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