Art for Art’s sake” was a bohemian slogan from the nineteenth century, raised in uproar of critics and communist advocates of socialist realism, who wanted to use art as a kind of advertisement for the state or official religion. To the bohemians, art  had a purpose in itself: to appeal to the artistic sense of the eye and not be forced to express patriotism or spiritual devotion.

With Art for Life’s sake, the functionality was put back into art again. The idea claims that art ought to benefit a large audience, and not only state or church.

For the core of our  subject is Life and Art; Life which we cannot evade; Art  which we may reject at our peril and cost; but Art for Life’s sake, not only for Art’s sake; not for selfish indulgence, but for the widest possible benefit for all. 

Art for Life’s Sake, Charles H. Caffin, 1913 – click to read online

Whistler: Nocturne in Black and Gold, The Falling Rocket, 1870

Whistler’s painting Falling Rocket was at the centre of a public scandal and libel trial, after the art critic John Ruskin accused Whistler of throwing “a pot of paint” in the public’s face. To Ruskin this painting appeared to be unfinished.

Art has been maligned

People have acquired the habit of looking, as who should say, not at a picture, but through it, at some human fact, that shall, or shall not, from a social point of view, better their mental or moral state…. Alas! Ladies and gentlemen, Art has been maligned. She has nought in common with such practices….

Nature contains the elements, in colour and form, of all pictures, as the keyboard contains the notes of all music!… To say to the painter, that Nature is to be taken as she is, is to say to the player, that he may sit on the piano (pp. 138, 136, 142-43). Kandinsky

More online

Art for Life’s Sake Charles H. Caffin, 1913

Wiki: more about art for art’s sake – link.


2 thoughts on “Art for Life’s Sake vs Art for Art’s Sake

  1. Many years ago, art was controlled by the church. The church decided what was acceptable or not. Artists who did not conform paid a dear price for their work. And while today we don’t have those controls over art, their are still problems with acceptance of some styles.

    Great article.


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