Art for Art’s Sake

First I must apologize for taking so long to respond to such a wonderful post. I am still new to blogging and am learning just how much time I need to dedicate to it. Everett has introduced an extremely interesting and thought provoking connection between art and a higher mystical/transcendental purpose on his website, POSHLUST. More specifically he has addressed my desire to compare Art or High Art and art or Low Art as to understand why the difference needs to exist. Everett suggests that this difference exists because in reality they are actually two completely different entities with “artists” working towards completely different ends. Art, Everett describes below:  Art exists “for its own sake” in the sense that it cannot serve an ideological purpose. As Robbe-Grillet says, “What [the author] was trying to do is merely the book itself…. And when we ask him why he has written his book, he has only one answer: “To try and find out why I wanted to write it.” This enlightenment, this awareness, cannot be approached cognitively: art must exist free because the very act of creating is a search, a quest, for something that it is not even entirely aware of when it begins. (For all the arguing I have done about “a heightened sense of consciousness,” I could not even begin to describe it; it is beyond me.) Thus to impose any level of direction on Art restrains it. (This is why philosophical works like those of Camus or Sartre or Brecht fail so miserably as literature: they are trying to teach us, but they force the work to fit their ideas, and the work becomes less because of it.) Art for art’s sake does not mean that it is meaningless; rather, it means that art requires freedom to serve its purpose, which is a search for, a desire to understand and communicate, the ineffable.”  

Therefore Art, Everett suggests is not designed for any one specific purpose but rather is an example of one artist’s search to communicate and/or understand the ineffable (a word mystics love to use to defend their experience as being legitimate). He therefore acknowledges his belief in “art for art’s sake” but not to suggest that art is meaningless and serves no purpose but that its purpose is within what Art is. While he calls art, or low art as being entertainment and having a different purpose entirely.

 This is not the goal of Entertainment. The goal of entertainment is to dull our senses to the world, to make us more comfortable with the world as it is. Mythology, Campbell wrote, was designed to make a mysterious and frightening world more acceptable; one cannot help but watch Live Free and Die Hard in the same context: providing our great fears (terrorism, a government incapable of dealing with disasters) and then providing us a comfortable resolution— the idea that these problems can be fixed, that even the great threat of terrorism is weak compared to American determination and ingenuity. Can there be fine works of entertainment? Certainly. David Huddle’s The Story of a Million Years, Chip Kidd’s The Cheese Monkeys, the works of Edith Sitwell, Stephen King (and most other genre writers for that matter), most of the style of French rococo, et&c.” 

With this definition he argues that one should not engage in a difference between the two categories because in the end they are entirely different productions that serve a different purpose and are produced in different ways. Where entertainment seeks to comfort art seeks to understand. This is a very interesting idea and one, I’ll be honest, I haven’t considered when engaging this debate. And I believe that Everett has posed a very convincing argument as to the validity of such a separation. He further argues that these entertainment pieces are:


temporal, their goal is, as the word “amuse” means “to divert from serious business,” a pleasant escapism. It is not to say that these works lack beauty or do not provoke thought, but rather that they are not designed to fundamentally change our perception of the world, our relationship with the world.”

But I must ask the question with this in regards to those well constructed entertainment pieces. What if they fundamentally change our perception of the world or have the influence to affect that change, maybe not fundamentally. But Everett has set up his argument well and stated that they weren’t designed to and therefore their effects do not necessarily influence which category they fall under. My problem with this argument is that it puts too much emphasis on the creator. I believe, as I have stated before , that art is not defined by an object but rather by an interaction and therefore requires active participation by the observer. Thus with this definition I believe that this new distinction between art that seeks to understand and art that seeks to comfort becomes completely subjective based on the relationship with the viewer. I also recognize that I am coming at this from one who believes mysticism and this ineffable thing we try to understand through mystical experiences is simply a euphoric state achieved through aesthetic experience, basically I am saying that art is not designed to explore some higher spiritual existence but rather is designed to explore our relationship with aesthetics. I cannot buy spirituality because I believe it is entirely connected to the “flaw of civilization” that Everett describes in his addendum to his Art as Mysticism post.


As always I am running out of time to post this so I leave it with a question. If art is mysticism and its true purpose is to explore this higher spiritual state, then how can those who do not live in mystical awareness and do not acknowledge spirituality interact with art? No I believe that his is one possibility but one that can only work for those who have strong belief in a spiritual world. For the rest of us art must and always be meaningless. It is in its meaninglessness that is thrives on being able to challenge our concepts of beauty, natural beauty, representation, creativity, productivity, style, design, all of these are aspects that in the end are there to entertain. When I have more time and for part two of this post I will dive more into why I believe art is and should be meaningless.




5 Responses to Art for Art’s Sake

  1. Everett Scott says:

    I will comment more later, but there are a few things I wanted to touch on briefly, as clarifications.

    D.H. Lawrence and others did not see Art as spiritual, but rather saw the mysticism as a greater awareness of our environment. Lawrence believed that we had trained ourselves to tune out the world, that logic and rationalism (as opposed to sensation and emotion) had come to dominate our lives and remove us from the world and ourselves. Which is the approach that some Romantics took: Nature as the higher goal. Psychologists like Jung and anthropologists like Campbell, Frazier and Weston recast religious theory in the guise of psychological/social development. Raising our consciousness is not necessarily a spiritual affair.

    Likewise, mysticism can have a religious connotation, but I personal take it to mean a heightened connection with the world around us: the “sublime” is not a higher plane but rather an intimate relationship with this plane. Religion without fail desires that we sacrifice our individuality for the authority or unity of God; Art desires that we, as individuals, embrace the worlds and realize both its power and our power. I take art to be a circuitous route to Maslow’s self-actualization. (And psychology takes what most would call spiritual and mystical experiences and reshapes them in the form of “peak experiences,” that aforementioned heightened connection.) So I think that religion has had a strong role, but that mysticism is not inherently religious, and neither is Art. (I don’t have a good definition for ‘aesthetics, so I don’t know if that’s what you meant or not.)

    I want to write about your idea that “art is not defined by an object but rather by an interaction and therefore requires active participation by the observer.” (I know it’s not yours originally.) However, I need to put together a cohesive argument first. Which is quite enjoyable: you have my thanks.

  2. huysmans says:

    First I’d like to say that I believe I can learn a lot from you, Mr. Scott. To begin with I wonder if you could share with me where this idea of art as an interaction originates from. I had assumed it was not mine to begin with yet I have not read anything that is suggestive of such an idea. Secondly I have to admit that I have yet to read anything by D. H. Lawrence so I would love a suggestion from you as to where to start.
    Anyway I believe I better understand your argument now and thank you for the clarification. I guess I cannot fully agree simply because I do believe there is merit in the participant who finds that deep connection with something that may not have been defined for it. But also I think there is something important in the senseless art. In the art that does nothing more than entertain. Because for me art is so beautiful in that is serves no purpose, and by giving it such a purpose, the purpose of understanding this connection with the world around us, we make it too serious and we lose sight of what it really is, a way to connect to each other. Yes I agree that there is something to be said for those transcendental pieces that have this timeless ability to connect us to something greater. For me one of those would be Notre Dame de Paris, an architectural master piece that I cannot spend too little time in front of, but another would also be Duchamps, Large Glass. The problem with my argument though is when a comparison comes up between something like Monet’s Water lilies and say Disney’s High School Musical. To say that both of these are on equal footing in the art world wouldn’t be right, and by your definition of the difference between art and entertainment we can see that they do strive for different results and therefore shouldn’t be compared. But if I altered the comparison a little and picked instead of Monet whose work I greatly admire Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa which I do not admire or see much merit in, then this idea of an interaction becomes more important, because for uniquely me I see more contemporary artistic merit in Disney’s creation than I do in Da Vinci’s work. Disney’s piece doesn’t just entertain me but it also connects with me in regards to media’s understanding of high school life as well as today’s society’s understanding and appreciation for what a musical is.
    Just some thoughts for a response, I love the ongoing dialogue and I look forward to a response.

  3. Everett Scott says:

    No need for a Mr.: I’m probably no older than you. And I am truly enjoying this conversation as well.

    Duchamp is the first I know of to argue that “All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone.” Its a Dadaist argument; given some of your other posts, you’re quite close to the source on that one. (When I typed “I know it’s not yours originally,” it didn’t seem as harsh as it does upon rereading. Apologies for that.)

    With Lawrence, most of his theory comes from the book, Apocalypse, where he discusses the nature of the Book of Revelations as a pagan, non-Christian work. I agree with some of what he says, find some of it to be absolute nonsense, but overall enjoyed it. Its a meditation on religion, individuality vs. society, primitive symbolism and psychology. Some of his fiction deals with the same material— esp. The Man Who Died, which is a rather odd little book— but fiction makes for terrible theory: worth reading, of course, but not solely for the theory behind it.

    As far as senseless art, isn’t your view of it as “a way to connect to each other” just another sense or purpose? I think connecting with each other is an important part of connecting with the world around us. And it’s not that art is inherently serious: Tsepeneag’s Vain Art of the Fugue (which I’m currently in love with, so I keep mentioning it: apologies) turns a scene that is tense and neurotic into a farce, and one can’t help but laugh at the main character while feeling a bit of pity for him. It is entertaining, but that’s not all it does. It adds a depth and quality to the life of its narrators, to the dullness of our lives, which elevates it. The same is true with Plascencia’s The People of Paper, which is entertaining without being solely entertainment.

    I guess key to this definition is that Entertainment is inherently reductive. The 40 Year Old Virgin reduces the main character to every stereotype about virginity and male inferiority possible, and then attacks it for “humorous” effect. Likewise, the Bond films create a stereotypical British hero— stiff upper lip, cool under fire, a ladies’ man, a drinker but not a drunk— and stereotypical villains to do battle. Disney’s High School Musical reduces characters to their stereotypical cliques and situations, and exploits them for humor and tension. Art attempts— and because it is artifice, it cannot truly reflect life in its fullest, but it attempts— to reflect life as it is, which requires a certain level of nuance.

    Could you offer a definition for aesthetics? You used the word, and it’s one I’ve heard but am not good with, i.e., don’t properly understand it.

  4. […] — Tags: Weltenschauung — Everett Scott @ 3:48 pm As part of our ongoing discussion, Huysman brought up the question of interaction. Who defines Art: the creator or the observer? My problem […]

  5. huysmans says:

    Everett that definition is coming, in the meantime I responded to your post with another defense of the interaction between object and the viewer. Also I’d love to ask you your opinion as to why High School Musical has blown up the way it did, when I saw it two years ago I never would have guessed it would have become everything that I did.

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