L’art pour l’art

“In Silence” – Chiharu Shiota 


A debate that I have been having with several of my friends over the last few weeks regarding the responsibility of the artist, and the term ‘art for art’s sake’. (It generally devolves into us yelling obscenities at each other and getting drunk on the cheapest red wine we can find, but I promise there is some actual intellect in there somewhere).

The phrase ‘art for art’s sake’ has always bothered me, for a few reasons: firstly, apart from embodying everything that is pretentious about the art world, it removes the responsibility of the artist as an influence on modern culture. This seems to be a eurocentric privilege in which we can distance ourselves from the consequence of what we create, not shedding light on anything important because there is nothing really of consequence that affects us. The link that is forged between the creator and the creation is cast away, and therefore connection to others is rendered impossible.

What is the purpose of art if not connection?

To fill in spare time and make something aesthetically pleasing but with no message or meaning? To me, that is not art.

“…what does all art do? does it not praise? glorify? select? highlight? By doing all this it strengthens or weakens certain valuations….Art is the great stimulus to life: how could one understand it as purposeless, as aimless, as l’art pour l’art?” – Friedrich Nietzsche

In many African cultures art is considered a highly functional medium in which to express ideas, lament on political climate and events, pass stories through generations, transcribe philosophy and project emotion. In fact most indigenous cultures use art as a functional mode of storytelling. It is rarely pretty for the sake of being pretty.

Think about your favorite artist, of any medium: if they used their influence to spread a message of hate or intolerance, or worse still, apathy – what effect would that have on modern culture? We would suddenly have a mass increase in disengagement and apathy that would spill over into politics, have a real life effect on real people that don’t get a say in it.


In the process of creating something out of nothing we accept a certain amount of responsibility, as anyone with influence must be held accountable. So create by all means, please, create – but be wary that people are watching and listening. Make it count.


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