Monday, February 20, 2012

Art for Art's Sake

Years ago when I was getting my B.F.A. in Communications/Fine Art at the University of Memphis, I had to take a few thousand hours of Art History.

Hey - I'm an Irishman- we get to overstate all the time! ;)

Anyway, "Art for Art's Sake" was one of the phrases accepted by famous artists in the mid-19th century, the pre-impressionists and impressionists, who were pushing back against the idea that art had to mean something or represent something or had to have a moral value to the viewer. Edgar Allen Poe was the one who got this ball rolling I just found out from Wikipedia - he wrote an essay in 1850 called "The Poetic Principle," in which he states:
We have taken it into our heads that to write a poem simply for the poem's sake [...] and to acknowledge such to have been our design, would be to confess ourselves radically wanting in the true poetic dignity and force: — but the simple fact is that would we but permit ourselves to look into our own souls we should immediately there discover that under the sun there neither exists nor can exist any work more thoroughly dignified, more supremely noble, than this very poem, this poem per se, this poem which is a poem and nothing more, this poem written solely for the poem's sake.
Poe was a brilliant writer, but here is where he inadvertently introduces a prime evil, the sin of glorifying a bit of self - self that is written by self and for self.

Now I can really understand this - I am so PROUD of having written and having drawn anything, I forget sometimes that my feeble attempts are as nothing in the sea of beauty and eternal glories. It is very easy to gaze at what one likes and is proud of and to lose oneself.

But the artist [poet/writer] has a doubly troubling danger: we can create our own idols.

Be it a painting, a piece of music, a well-written essay, a poem. I think Poe and the artists following him forgot that art that does NOT engage others and serve up beauty or insight or revelation - or conviction and soul-reflection - has failed to do more than make the artist feel good.

I think that is allowable in small doses - it is chocolate for the soul, I think - but a steady diet of it would make me uncommunicative, non-relational, unrelatable and isolated.

So I don't think art should exist just for art's sake. But that is because I do not think I, a living human being, should exist solely for my sake.

If I do art, I want it to serve; I guess that makes me a utilitarian. I want it to be cool and exciting or clean and identifiable or alarming and amazing - my emphasis was Graphic Design by the way.

At the end of the day, we fully realize art brings value to much of our life here in a fallen world.

But it does not have life unless we breathe into it and it does no good to merely exist - we must see it, read it, touch it, hear it.

And then the talent and grace that God gave the artist turns into a blessing for us all.

Art is not for art's sake.

Art is for God's sake.

So, for God's sake, go do some art.

And show it to us.

Amen.

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