Art for art’s sake

March 6, 2007 at 8:07 pm (literature)

Aesthetic Movement, English artistic movement of the late 19th century, dedicated to the doctrine of ‘art for art’s sake’ – that is, art as a self-sufficient entity concerned solely with beauty and not with any moral or social purpose. Associated with the movement were the artists Aubrey Beardsley and James McNeill Whistler and writers Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde .
I want to hear your personal idea and opinion of the doctrine ‘art for art’s sake’.



  1. peter said,

    Art is fine, but when it comes to writing, there has to be content or there is no writing. A lot of pretty words strung together aren’t beautiful, or even art.

  2. craddlle said,

    I think…

    Beauty is good, and producing things that are beautiful is a good end in itself.
    It is not the only end, but it is a sufficient justification for a painting, a piece of music or a poem.

    I half agree with PeterL. It is not easy to produce a piece of writing that is beautiful but otherwise meaningless – poetry in an unknown language may provide an experience of beautiful sounds without meaning, but clearly the major part of the poem would be lost, if the meaning were not understood.

    On the other hand, the definition given was “beauty, and not with any moral or social purpose.” So something like Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” could be included, or any description of a beautiful thing that only described the beauty without attempting to draw any moral.

    On the other hand again – whether in writing or any other artistic form – the pursuit of beauty alone would be the equivalent of living on a diet of marshmallows. Marshmallows are good, and making marshmallows is a worthy occupation for a marshmallow maker, but….

  3. sharan said,

    It is funny that you mention “Kubla Khan”, because I am of the opinion that there is a significant content in it, but it is obscured almost as much as “Finnegans Wake”, and Coleridge was playing games.

  4. craddlle said,

    Haha – I knew someone would say something like that!

    But, just for the sake of the argument, accept the story that Coleridge dreamed it all, and rushed to write down as much as he could before he forgot it – only he was interrupted by “a stranger from Porlock.”

    Actually, of course, you bring another dimension to the discussion. Even assuming that the artist is attempting to make a work of art without hidden meanings, the viewer, listener or reader will bring his own experience and provide a meaning. So the work of art becomes for the beholder what a field of daffodils was for Wordsworth. The daffodils were completely innocent of any intent, but Wordsworth saw meaning in them. There is no escape.

  5. rembrandt said,

    my take on the notion of “art for art’s sake” is that it is an approach to writing whereby the writer disconnects oneself from those who will come to judge his/her work. it’s somehow about disconnecting from this noise of the world and from one’s own demons of affectation, promotion, careerism. art for art’s sake is less a creed and more a way of being—your life and the written word forming a seamless web.

    there’s an old story of W.H. Auden when he was a teacher giving advice to two university students who approached him expressing an interest to be writers. He asked the first, “well, why do you want to be a writer?” the student answered that he was inspired by the great writers and felt ultimately writing was his “calling.” auden told him not to write. the second student approached with the same, and again Auden asked, “Why do you want to be a writer?” “because I love fooling with words,” the girl answered. He told her she would make a wonderful writer.

    that’s art for art’s sake.

  6. sharan said,

    Yes, there is no escape. We can’t express no meaning. Everything that humans say and do has meaning, although the meaning may not be clear, even to the one who does the expression.

  7. wild apple said,

    a lot of pretty words strung together is not necessarily art. So, therefore that’s not really applicable to this argument. In other words, the people of this movement had a prerequisite that the work has to actually be “art.” Hence, art for art’s sake. Not art for meaningless drivel’s sake.

    “Art for art’s sake” does not preclude content.

  8. darr said,

    The Birth of Tragedy; I think his ideas on the subject deserve the highest regard.

    This is my opinion.

  9. il penseroso said,

    Care to elaborate, for those of us who’ve not read it?

  10. reformed nihilist said,

    Originally Posted by Wild Apple :
    “Yes, a lot of pretty words strung together is not necessarily art. So, therefore that’s not really applicable to this argument. In other words, the people of this movement had a prerequisite that the work has to actually be “art.” Hence, art for art’s sake. Not art for meaningless drivel’s sake”.

    “Art for art’s sake” does not preclude content.
    That is true, but “Art for art’s sake” implies that the artistry of the form is more important than the content. In writing there has to be a balance that leans toward the content being emphasized over the form, but writing must conform to gramatical forms, or it will not be comprehensible.

  11. adwork said,

    In an artwork, there is no form without content, as there is no content without form.

    Surely, they are not seperating the two.

  12. adwork said,

    I would like to elaborate. Yet, its’ ideas are so very fleet and often misinterpreted. The book takes a stance from which the existence of the world is justified only as an aesthetic phenomena. Morality, itself a phenomena, is seen among the ‘deceptions’ as “an illusion, delusion, error, interpretation, artifice, art.”

  13. big bad wolf said,

    I have seen visual art that had no content beyond the form itself.

  14. jean-baptiste said,

    Isn’t this “art for art’s sake” necessarily attempting to divorce human effort from its social and natural background? There would be no art without nature and society, and to suggest that art can stand alone, separated from its necessary origins seems absurd.

    Yes, art can seem to be lacking content–in that case the form itself is an appeal to nature. It doesn’t have to appeal to human sensibilties, but the mere fact that it does not should not mean that it stands as its own origin.

    Interesting discussion.

  15. virgil said,

    This is an interesting discussion. I won’t add my thoughts yet. But let me throw this in as food for thought: what about music? How does a Beethoven symphony, clearly high art and yet having no intellectual content (it’s all abstract), fit into this discusson?

  16. AdW2356 said,

    For a photograph the form is the impact of the photographic settings, while the content is the subject of the photograph. It seems the form becomes how something is captured, while the content is what is being captured.

    I have taken “art for art’s sake” to mean creation for the sake of creating, being in itself an end, not a means.

  17. V.E.Sweets said,

    Hmm..I think art for art’s sake works well (for me as reader) with poetry but not so much with fiction. I like fiction with a good plot, if the writer uses good (beautiful) technique to get that plot across thats only a plus.

  18. godhelpme2 said,

    I’m afraid some guys have gone a little bit out of the topic.
    Another idea of the doctrine is that it is not nature that produces art but rather art itself creates the nature. Do you think it is logical or acceptable?

  19. V.E.Sweets said,

    Sorry for going out of topic, it appears the term “art for art’s sake” is an ambiguous one….but that is certainly an interesting notion. I think that this statement that art creates nature kind of ties in with the notion that existence revolves around perception. SO I could definetely buy into this way of looking at art and nature.

  20. jean-baptiste said,

    Originally Posted by godhelpme2
    I’m afraid some guys have gone a little bit out of the topic.
    Another idea of the doctrine is that it is not nature that produces art but rather art itself creates the nature. Do you think it is logical or acceptable?
    No I do not. Art is merely a reflection or an abstraction of nature. It does not possess the creative faculty; that is the sole possession of humanity. You could argue from a creationist point of view that humanity itself is art, but if we are limiting this discussion, as I assume we are, to works of art made by humans then the works of art obviously cannot be held accountable for the creation of nature.

    This argument is essentially using the terms of one world and applying them to another. One cannot speak of the physical world with terms designated for the metaphysical. It would be like saying that the portrait made the man, which is an absurdity unless taken as a metaphorical statement. But this argument of art for art’s sake would necessarily intend such a statement to be literal.
    what about music? How does a Beethoven symphony, clearly high art and yet having no intellectual content (it’s all abstract), fit into this discusson?
    Good point, Virgil. I seem to recall that Sartre had something to comment on that very idea in his Literature and Existentialism. I’ll have to look it up and refresh my memory.

  21. byquist said,

    That familiar saying seems very valid to me. Some people have said that a play is nothing without an audience. Well, I’d say it has its own integrity without an audience watching it. Play rehearsals w/o an audience certainly are real.

    Another phrase is “making life an art” or “living as art” — also described as “immediacy” without any alternate, added or ulterior purpose. Just living to live. Or just to be. Or direct being. “Being for being’s sake” sounds decent enough too.

    If an artist has some other intention other than the execution of the art, then an alternative purpose (ofttimes money) creeps in and artistry may be reduced.

    The philosopher Susanne K. Langer talks a lot about aesthetics — art for art.

  22. stlukesguild said,

    I don’t believe “art for art’s sake” was meant to suggest that art was nothing more than a pleasing arrangement of colors, sounds, shapes, words, etc… without meaning or content. Rather, I believe it was intended as a rejection of the notion that art can/should be judged (as art) based upon non-art values such as religion, morality, politics, etc… As such, it is in direct opposition to many contemporary literary theories that espouse the notion that everything is political and should be read with a proper (politically correct?) cant. In other words, artists such as Baudelaire, Wilde, Pater, Whistler, the Impressionists, Debussy, etc… were not making art without “meaning” or content… but rather, they all rejected the notion that we should, for example, reject Shakespeare as a literary artist because his plays did not profess some noble moral… because good did not neccessarily prevail, evil was not always ugly and ignorant, etc…

    To often, I feel, “art for art’s sake” (l’art pour l’art) is imagined as the products of some simpering, effete, aesthetes who value nothing more than beauty for beauty’s sake. Of course music and abstract art might be seen, on one level, as nothing more than a pleasing arrangement of tones, colors, shapes, textures, etc… On one level, this may be a valid description. However… just because we cannot ascribe a definite clear “meaning” to Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet or Rothko’s “Seagram’s Paintings” does not mean they are “meaningless”. neither should we assume that literature (however many links it may share with visual art or music) may just as easily succeed as nothing more than an arrangement of pleasing words. I doubt that any great art can truly be seen as meaningless or without content. Essentialy, ‘art pour l’art is the foundation upon which Modernism was built… freeing art from the neccessity of servicing some external value. Art could continue to be political (Beckmann, Guernica, Steinbeck, Brecht) but it was realized that one might value… even admire a work of art in spite of it’s presentation of political views that were contrary to one’s own… moral views that were doubtful (at best)… or even no morals at all.

    I profess such a belief (or one quite close to such) myself. Walter Pater’s Conclusion to The Renaissance is one of my favorite passages in literature (and perhaps the one that best explains what I value about art. I personally do not read with some political/social/economic/moral/religious agenda in mind. Neither do I read to merely reinforce my own values/beliefs. I greatly enjoyed reading Plato, Rousseau, Dante and many other brilliant authors… in spite of my having “fought” with them all the way. As a visual artist myself, I bristle at the notion that my work SHOULD convey a certain moral/ethical/political/economic/social/religious value. I read… listen to music… look at art… so that I can engage in a sort of intellectual intercourse with great minds different from my own. I create art in order to give form to my thoughts (not to what others think I should be thinking).

  23. kerry said,

    so basically what you’re saying is that you produce art for art’s sake

  24. alfred guald said,

    artist as god is as old as adam. is it acceptable? depends on the quality of the artist.

  25. chaplin said,

    You know, we think that works of art whose base meaning is to create a work of beauty are not inferior to those that try to express philosophical, moralor political views.
    Take the last scene with Sofya and Svidrigailov from “Crime and Punishment”, for example. Oh, you could extract some generalisation or idea out of it, but really, the stark emotion you get from the scene is something you can’t describe with words. It is higher than words, unique. It can inspire you,you can communicate how you feel about it by writing your own piece of art, but how to put it in words?
    However, analyzing is much more social, you can sit over a coffee table and exchange words about the work of art, but you cannot exchange the emotion you get from it. (other than creating your own work of art)

  26. chaplin said,

    I ask them to take a poem
    and hold it up to the light
    like a color slide
    or press an ear against its hive.

    I say drop a mouse into a poem
    and watch him probe his way out,
    or walk inside the poem’s room
    and feel the walls for a light switch.

    I want them to waterski
    across the surface of a poem
    waving at the author’s name on the shore.

    But all they want to do
    is tie the poem to a chair with rope
    and torture a confession out of it.

    They begin beating it with a hose
    to find out what it really means.

  27. karamian said,

    beauty can be a very laudible aim for art, as much so as social expression. The intention of the artist, or the content of the art is not the conflicted issue; it is the attempt to divorce art of its social background that raises questions. It is the suggestion that art can pertain to itself alone that is preposterous. Regardless of how art is criticized, it cannot ultimately be thought of a springing from itself, for itself. Without humanity, there would be no art; therefore, art pertains to humanity. As a more self-evident example–there would be no art without physics. This is not meant to suggest that art must at all times be judged in terms of its relationship to physics, merely that it cannot come about divorced of physics, with or without any knowledge of physics on the part of the artist, and therefore can at all times be related or thought of in terms of physics. The same goes for art’s origin in humanity. By this we can assume that the intention of the artist is not all-important; by it we also see that an artist cannot possibly create something that has naught to do with society or nature, no matter how one may try. To suggest that it can be divorced of all human experience, be that natural or social, is not only absurd, but sacrilegious.

  28. virgil said,

    I’ve been meaning to contribute to this discussion. So here goes. Several points.

    Part of the discussion seems to be whether art should be didactic (present some overarching meaning) or aesthetic. This is an age old question. As someone pointed out, Pater advocates an art for art’s sake point of view, which would emphasize the aesthetics of a work; Tolstoy, contemporaneously believed that all art requires a moral lesson. These are probably the two extremes of the spectrum and one can assume that there are elements of both in most works. However, it strikes me that didactic is a sub set to aesthetic—you can have art that is not didactic, but you can’t have art that is not aesthetic. Even didactic art requires form and shape.

    Another point I wish to make is that one must not confuse the notion that specific art forms are a craft that requires the manipulation of a particular medium. Some have argued that you can’t string together words randomly that sound beautiful but have no meaning. I agree but perhaps for different reasons. But the basis of your argument is that art in general requires meaning. That it needs to have some philosophic/moral/intellectual point. But literature (poetry, novels, short stories) is a form that uses words as the medium for creativity, the building blocks if you will. Their very nature requires meaning to be present. As a parallel, the building block of pottery is clay. You can’t make a work of pottery out of paper, and still be called a work of pottery. Words/sentences/paragrapghs are the clay of literary art forms. In order to create a literary art form it must be created within the context of meaning. It’s not that art requires significance, it’s because the medium itself is built up of meaning. Fine art is the art of arranging shapes and images; music is the art of arranging sound. That is why it is clear that they don’t require the same need for intellectual content as literature, which is the art of arranging language (at it’s most general definition).

  29. danielle said,

    For this entire discussion to make much sense, there are some things that I believe should be clarified. The primary thing is: What is Art?

    I believe that people have been discussing that for several milleniums.

    After that has been established, then a definition of art as it applies to writing would have to be found, and that would entail defining exactly what writing is. By the time we finished with that, we probably would have already decided what the application of “Art for Art’s sake” would be in regard to writing, and the thread would make a great book.

  30. teh duke said,

    I do not imagine that “l’art pour l’art” should be taken as a suggestion that the artist is the first and last word upon everything. Perhaps the romantic notion of the artist/poet as visionary presented an image of the artist as percieving the world with a greater eye than all the rest of humanity. I would imagine that the artist is merely better at giving form to how he or she percieves the world. Jacques Louis David envisioned Napoleon as a great hero. Goya witnessed Napoleon as one of the causes of the horrors in the Franco-Spanish War. Both are brilliant artists. I judge their success or failure based upon how well they were able to give their perceptions artistic form not upon whether my own politics agree or disagree with what they conveyed. Of course the nearer in history works are, the more difficult it is to separate the art from the politics/religion/morality. Many still find it difficult to appreciate the brilliance of the filmaker Leni Riefenstahl who was known mostly for the groundbreaking films she created in support of the Nazis.
    … and yet we have little difficulty in appreciating the artistic works by Renaissance artists which essentially glorified brutal and sadistic rulers such as the Borgias, De Medicis, etc… who only differed from Hitler in terms of scale. I do not assume that artists are beyond political/moral/ethical/religious judgments… but rather, I would agree that art needs to be judged on artistic terms. In other words… I may disagree with what has been said and yet still admit that it was expressed excessively well… and still feel that the time spent in the presence of this artist was not wasted.

  31. the boss said,

    Maybe it helps to keep in mind the social and historical circumstances in which this movement originated?
    my knowlege of English history is rather hazy, but I think at the time Wilde wrote this, the English/British as a nation where busy administering their Empire, trading goods, keeping their industry going, becoming rich etc. In other words, they were interested mainly in practical (=useful) things.
    For example, learning about Geography or joining the military was a good idea, because it served some practical purpose within this system, i.e. it was taken for granted that these things were useful. Everything you did had to serve some purpose withing this accepted system of values and you were not supposed to do things for their own sake.
    Also, people moralized about virtually anything and were extremely prim and proper. But who knows what they were up to behind the scenes?
    Maybe they had forbidden desires? If they indulged in them in secret, they lied to the world at large. If they suppresed them, they lied to themselves.
    And of course (and this is my very personal subjective opinion), the same people who whored around and smoked opium themselves (or would have liked to but didn’t) would go ostracizing their neighbour if they caught him at it.

    So society at that time was quite extreme in its moral views and aestheticism can be seen as an equally extreme reaction to that.
    Of course, Wilde’s book was bound to shock those prim and proper people, seeing as it’s about a (homosexual?) man who sells his soul, does drugs, is responsible for the suicide of a young girl, kills his friend in cold blood.
    Of course, people would be shocked by the book, especially because many people expect books to provide moral guidance. Many people have difficulty seeing a novel as only a novel, they assume it’s some kind of manual of how to live your life. They expect things in books to conform to received social values and expect all characters in books to be shining examples of morality.
    I.e. a book has to contribute to reader’s sentimental education (i.e. have an effect on their real lives) and tell them what they know best alraedy: that their moral values are justified and how to live by them. In other words: a books has to be useful, it has to have some practical purpose.
    This works well for happy-clappy books in which characters most pressing problem is “Do I marry Mr A or Mr B? Mr A is nice and rich and Mr B is grumpy and even richer?” and in the end they marry and everyone’s happy.

    Now if you want to write a shocking book you might need to tell people, “Listen, if you feel compelled to imitate the behaviour of the character in this book, you’ve got only yourself to blame!”
    —> you tell them that art is useless.

  32. virgil said,

    So how do ideas fit into art? St Lukes brings up an interesting point from his experience:
    Originally Posted by stlukesguild
    The art that I have created over the years was created with various intentions. I rarely ever thought of creating merely for the sake of making something “beautiful”. Nevertheless, I believe that the success or failure of my work is dependent not upon my having said the right thing… expressed the proper political views… but rather upon its success as a work of art.
    Let me be so bold as put forth the following:

    What inspire artists (fine art) are artistic ideas. Now that may seem ambiguous to someone who is not an artist, but in my observation of artists talking, they seem to be imply this.

    Same thing may be said for musicians. What inspire musical composers are musical ideas.

    Let me attempt this for the literary arts.

    What inspire poets are language ideas (poetry being the art of arranging language).

    What inspire playwrights are dramatic ideas (plays being the art of arranging performance).

    What inspire short story writers are tale telling ideas (the short story being the art of arranging stories).

    What inspire novelists are experience telling ideas (novel being the art of arranging experience).

    The ideas are not some philosophic undertaking but central to the medium of the art form. Nobody wants to read a novel expounding Hume’s ideas, for instance. You can read an essay about it if you like and understand it way better than a novel. It’s how the novel is shaped (and therefore, how experience is shaped) by Hume’s thoughts that makes it interesting as a work of art. And so we get a great novel called Tristram Shandy by Laurence Stern.

  33. redzeppelin said,

    A wonderful discussion topic.
    Lawrence Perrine, a literature anthology editor, once wrote a wonderful essay discussing the question “Why read literature?” (“literature” as the idea of written “art”). In the essay, Perrine essentially said that the difference between “entertainment” reading and “literature” was the vision of reality that the work presented. Literature, he said, “broadens and deepens our experience and awareness of life..[it] takes us, throught the imagination, deeper into the real world: it enables us to understand our troubles..[it] has as its object pleasure plus understanding.” Perrine did not say literature had to be “realistic” but that it had to enrich our sense of reality. I think that’s well said. C.S. Lewis said something similar in his Reflections on the Psalms in that he believed that all great literature involved the sincere search for truth.

    Note that those definitions do not say that literature (art) needed to be didactic – only that it had, as its goal, truth/reality. (I know that I discussed literature instead of art in general, but I thought I’d deal with the subcategory I’m most familiar with ).

    But in terms of visual and sonic art? That’s a different question (maybe?).

  34. tizian said,

    All art is a form of “self expression”, indeed. To be otherwise is impossible. All self-expression, however, is not art (a baby crying, a teenager’s diaries). Or perhaps, since the question of what art is has been broached, I should say that all self-expression is not good art. If the work lacks an aesthetic “beauty”… and this may include everything from the traditional “beauty” of a Raphael madonna, a Petrarchan sonnet, or a Mozart sonata as well as the sublime beauty of fear, horror, and tragedy found in Oedipus Rex, Beethoven, Goya, or Motherwell’s Elegies to the Spanish Republic.

  35. tizian said,

    All artists cannot help but have ethical, political, religious, moral sympathies and these most certainly present themselves in the work. On the other hand, I don’t see these sympathies as a valid standard by which to judge the success of the art. To do such adds up to a rejection of all art that does not meet our current sympathies (ie. Shakespeare and Wagner are anti-Semitic so their art is bad) and leads to an expectation that an artist give form to only that which is communaly agreed upon and not that which is is felt/believed/thought by the unique individual.

  36. tizian said,

    Wilde, of course, was very clear in his definition of art. He obviously differentiated craft from art and illustration from “fine art”. He obviously agreed 100% with Mallarme who noted that the bathroom was the most useful room in the home… but certainly not the most aesthetic/beautiful. Today, post “Arts and Crafts Movement”, post Bauhaus, post Duchamp, and post 1960s obsessions with “sef-expression” anything can be claimed as art… even your microprocessor, your nuclear reactor… or the turd in the bowell (and such has been presented as art). So why not murder as fine art? DeQuincy played with this idea parodying the nascent Romatic notions that everything could be art. So is Hitler then the crown genius of murder as art? The Holocaust nothing more than a great theatre macabre?

  37. willie baker said,

    One does not become a visual artist because one wants to speak out against injustice, warfare, racism, sexism, etc… (although such elements may enter into one’s art). One does not become an artist because one has studied and admired the great masters and wants to become such oneself (although certainly many/most artists have studied the work of their predecessors. One becomes an artist because one loves playing with the elements of art: lines and colors and shapes and textures, etc… and organizing them. Without this all one has is ideas or feelings without a love of the methods through which to convey them. When most artists look at another artist’s work… shall we say a contemporary?… they do not engage in discussions of what is being expressed… in the “feelings” or ideas conveyed. The discussions center rather upon what is or is not “working” in the composition… the color relationships… the use of materials… the manipulation of paint or ink, etc… Yes, we recognize the ideas and the feelings conveyed… but then perhaps it is something like being a magician… we understand the “tricks”… we know know that a certain color combination can convey a given mood… we know that this or that subject will be inherently interpretted in a certain manner. Certainly there are still works of art that move us… but we are far more likely to be moved with awe at the manner in which a certain artist has achieved his or her work. We don’t well up in response to the ideas conveyed in the Sistine cieling, but rather to how brilliantly these ideas were conveyed and given form by that individual known as Michelangelo.

  38. craddlle said,

    I believe that people can validly judge art, of any kind, by the content, if they wish to. I understand why others might disagree with that. Without the content, there is no art. Is the form, the expression itself, better or worse for the content? I say that the form is inconsequential without the content.

  39. in theory said,

    I loved Wilde. I still do, although I disagree with him constantly now. I haven’t got much to say for The Picture of Dorian Gray, except that I think it’s bad form-wise compared to the great Victorian novels More relevant to the discussion of art and morality is, I think, the following passages from De Profundis:

    “Now it seems to me that love of some kind is the only possible explanation of the extraordinary amount of suffering that there is in the world. I cannot conceive of any other explanation. I am convinced that there is no other, and that if the world has indeed, as I have said, been built of sorrow, it has been built by the hands of love, because in no other way could the soul of man, for whom the world was made, reach the full stature of its perfection. Pleasure for the beautiful body, but pain for the beautiful soul.”

    “When [Christ] says, ‘Forgive your enemies,’ it is not for the sake of the enemy, but for one’s own sake that he says so, and because love is more beautiful than hate. In his own entreaty to the young man, ‘Sell all that thou hast and give to the poor,’ it is not of the state of the poor that he is thinking but of the soul of the young man, the soul that wealth was marring.”

    To me, Wilde has inverted the relationship between morality and beauty. A thing is not beautiful because it’s moral. A thing is not beautiful because it’s amoral. Rather, a thing is moral because it’s beautiful; beauty comes before morality in the creation of things.

    This idea is beautiful but problematic to the highest point. What defines beauty then? Wilde would suggest sorrow, based on the first quote there. Thus we should go to Iraq and tell the people whose arms have been bombed off and whose houses are razed to the ground that their lives are beautiful and good. Poof. Are the lampshades of the ***** of Belsen beautiful then? Sure they are original. I heard they look quite good, and there is plenty of sorrow in them. They pass the beauty test–so they are moral? Gimme a break Oscar

    Also I wonder about the cultural standards of beauty, say feminine beauty. Lucy Liu is ugly by Chinese standards, every Chinese would tell you that. But she made it into Time’s 100 most beautiful people on earth? If even something as objective as how a woman looks vary so much from culture to culture, how can we judge a work’s aesthetic value without referring to our contemporary environment?

    The only way I judge the beauty of a book, nowadays, is judging by how well the author transcends the limits of language (form) and of thoughts (content) at his/her time. So far that test has been going quite well

    Oh dear, I’ve rambled on and on without any sort of focus *slithers away in shame*

  40. danielle said,

    effete ephebes is what i call literary dabblers concerned exclusively with effect. for god’s sake get out or as hamlet says “there are more things on heaven and earth than are ever dreamt of in your philosophies, so therefore as a stranger give it welcome.”

  41. godhelpme2 said,

    i’m extremely surprised and happy to find that there are so many guys involved in this tread. I take everyone’s opinion valuable and unique.
    Can anyone tell me the meaning of chasetalling’s words?
    I subtly feel it offensive. Is it so or only a misunderstanding?

  42. omegaxxx said,

    The only way I judge the beauty of a book, nowadays, is judging by how well the author transcends the limits of language (form) and of thoughts (content) at his/her time. So far that test has been going quite well

  43. virgil said,

    Omega, you have some interesting points, some of which I may or may not disagree. But the quoted passage struck me. Can you explain what you mean? First of all, how can one transcend a limit? By definition that’s an impossibility. If they transcend it, then it wasn’t a limit.

  44. virgil said,

    Well, I wasn’t really picking on him. I kind of know what he meant by the phrase. However I don’t know what he specifically means as it relates to the subject at hand. How does a writer transcend? Does he mean be the best of his times? That wouldn’t have very much significance. Transcend “the limits of language”? Do you know what that means? Does he mean writing in blood? Or what? So then I don’t have a clue as to what he means. But it does seem interesting.

  45. wild apple said,

    Originally Posted by Virgil
    Omega, you have some interesting points, some of which I may or may not disagree. But the quoted passage struck me. Can you explain what you mean? First of all, how can one transcend a limit? By definition that’s an impossibility. If they transcend it, then it wasn’t a limit.
    In general, like Jean Baptiste said, you could have allowed such a thing to pass. Even so, your own point is incorrect. The Oxford English Dictionary defines transcend as:

    1. To pass over or go beyond (a physical obstacle or limit); to climb or get over the top of (a wall, mountain, etc.).
    2. To pass or extend beyond or above (a non-physical limit); to go beyond the limits of (something immaterial); to exceed.

    So not only does a phrase ‘transcending a limit’ make sense, but (unless your using very concise language) it is completely necessary.

  46. virgil said,

    So how does one go beyond language? Beyond form? If you understand that, please describe explain.

  47. omegaxxx said,

    Eeek, this reminds me of my Econ prof, “Before you answer a question or write down anything, define your terms ”

    Ok, lemme see if I *do* have an idea of what I’m talking about.

    By transcendent, I don’t mean subject matter. There’s only a handful of subject matter one can write on: love, death, loss, et cetera. However, there are myriad ways to approach it, much like one can, in theory, scale up a mountain from an infinite number from trails. Now some of these trails have been trodden so much that we are sick of it. The mountain is the same mountain. It hasn’t changed. But we’ve gone up the same number of trails far too often that we see the exact same things: at this turn is a boulder, at that turn a fir tree, three turns later and we are on there.

    A transcendent work, I think, is one that takes us up a hitherto non-existent trail. It has transcended the limits of existent modes of expression, which are limits we observe in our daily writing and even our daily life. It will be, clearly, more difficult and more demanding of the reader, but it’s also more exciting because we don’t know what to expect. We see different trees and boulders on the way up. We might discover new species animals that we never thought were present in this mountain. And when we reach the summit, we might discover that the place all previous trails take us is not really a summit (I don’t know if this is technically possible as my hiking experiences have told me that summits are usually quite well-defined, but whatever it’s an imperfect analogy.)–the actual summit is much higher. Even if we do end up on the same plane, if all the previous paths do indeed lead us to a summit, we still look down at the rest of the mountain in a very different light because we have taken a completely different trail and seen completely different things coming up it.

    So to summarize, what I meant by transcending the limits of language and thoughts is
    – using an original mode of expression which
    – still reflects the subject matter (i.e. does go up the mountain) but does so in a wholy different way, such that
    – new aspects of it are revealed
    The first two points are for form, the second for content.
    Reading works like this gives me great aesthetic pleasure, which is why I call it art.
    One problem I can think of right off the bat is the haziness of the idea of “an original mode of expression”. But that’s altogether a different topic.

  48. omegaxxx said,

    Would it be clearer if I said “limits in language and thoughts”? Clearly no writing can transcend the limits of language itself.

  49. omegaxxx said,

    Originally Posted by Virgil
    That is a modern (or more accuractly, recent to the last couple of hundred years) view. In classical, medevil and even early reaissance the greater value was placed on being able to emulate great works. So Virgil’s Aeneid was an emulation of Homer.
    I have not yet read Virgil, so I definitely can’t judge how well he has done his job, although I would imagine that anyone setting out to purely emulate Homer must either forfeit the objective or be driven insane by Homer’s accomplishments.
    However, I do find it interesting that you bring up the medieval time. If I am not mistaken, Homer was not widely read during that time. Chaucer refers to him constantly in Troylus and Criseyde, but all biographical and textual evidence points to the fact that he has never read The Iliad. The medieval interpretation of the Trojan War is also vastly different (and inferior, IMHO) from that of Homer or three Greek dramatist. They have appeared to have failed miserably in emulating great works.

  50. carotte said,

    every artist needs to have some sort of idea as to what he or she imagines good art and beauty consists of whether it’s based upon the ideas of Burke, Shelley, Keats, Wilde, Pater, Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Tolstoy, Ruskin, one’s Uncle Chuck… or a combination of all of these and more.

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