Sunday, July 30, 2006


Because recently my brother clued me in, over at his spot, to the fact that MGM's slogan, found around the roaring lion, "ars gratia artis” means “art for art’s sake,” I got to thinking about this idea again.

Art for art’s sake: a release from the tyranny of meaning and purpose, is something I firmly believe in and honestly support.

But in my personal experiences thus far in academia, I’ve noticed a palpable fury arise in the eyes of many whenever someone shows signs of supporting this viewpoint. It is beyond the capacity of many professional educators to understand something from a purely aesthetic point of view. This is in part due to the fact that these people are not themselves creators of art, but instead merely parasites wearing critic’s clothing, who would have no livelihood whatsoever if it weren't for artists who created things for them to find meaning in. To these folks everything is political, everything is “about” something, some underlying social meaning or interpretation, and ultimately, if I may exercise my right to speak candidly, everything eventually leads back to some kind of woe-is-me, superdidactic whine-fest where touchy-feely intellectuals sit around in stuffy libraries agreeing with each other about how “real art” must convey a message and about how some oppressed group needs their genius help to become better represented. I call it the Cult of Cultural Studies.

Many times I have attempted to battle these particular petty bourgeois ideas in the corridors of the ivory tower, and I have suffered the consequences without fail. One professor at my previous institution was so dumbfounded at my assertion that art has no obligation to relevancy that he could barely comment on one of my essays. You could see by the shaky penmanship scribbled across the top of the title page that his brain was smoking like a broken robot as he wrote something to the effect of, “How dare you have the audacity to try and release yourself from moral responsibility and political obligation by claiming art for art’s sake!” I can see his beady little eyes bulging right now, the sweat just dribbling down his forehead as he fanatically asserted his wan intellectual fervor. Poor guy. He really and honestly believed that Conrad’s Heart of Darkness could be reduced to a “racist objectification of the Other.”

I agree with Nabakov when he says "...there can be no question that what makes a work of fiction safe from larvae and rust is not its social importance but its art, only its art.” And I echo his sentiments that, “A work of art has no importance whatever to society. It is only important to the individual.”

True that, Vladi, true that.

Learn more about Art for Art’s sake here, here, and here.