“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.
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