From the Industrial Revolution to World War I, C. 1850–1914

Late Nineteenth-Century Painting

What is “art for art’s sake”?

During the nineteenth century, there was, and continues to be, a debate about the role and function of art in society. The term “art for art’s sake” was first coined by Victor Cousins, a French philosopher, and reflects the tenets of Aestheticism, which is centered on the idea that there is no purpose for art other than beauty. There were some critics of this idea. Karl Marx, for example, thought that art is a reflection of social class and has the power to make political change. The foremost English art critic, John Ruskin, believed that art had both political and social significance and therefore had a purpose more far-reaching than beauty alone.


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