By Alexis MacNeil
Aesthetics and aestheticism are terms derived from the ancient science of the beautiful and the beauty in Nature. This tradition took on new meaning in the 19th century as it developed into an art and culture movement supported largely by the elite in France and Britain . The movement grew out from philosopher Victor Cousin’s coined phrase in 1818, “l’art pour l’art” or “art for art’s sake”. In other words, participants of the aestheticism movement believed that art exists for beauty alone and does not need to serve any other political or didactic purpose. Author Eustace Breakspeare delineates the movement as being concerned with “the correlation of arts, the endeavor to effect a closer intimacy in art-practice” as well as establishing an “authority on matters of taste” (103). Moreover, as Walter Hamilton wrote in his 1882 text, “the essence of the movement is the union of persons of cultivated tastes to define, and to decide upon what is to be admired, and their followers must aspire to that standard in their works and lives” (vii).
Examples of the aestheticism movement can be found in artists such as Max Beerbohm, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Aubrey Beardsley, and of course Oscar Wilde who was seen as encompassing the essence of the movement itself.
Aestheticism. “Encyclopedia Britannica.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. May 10, 2007. Web. Feb. 2017. https://www.britannica.com/art/Aestheticism.
BREAKSPEARE, EUSTACE J. “AESTHETICISM.” Musical standard 24.968 (1883): 102-4. ProQuest. Web. 21 Feb. 2017. http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/7568694/fulltext/78433D8C8E46408BPQ/1?accountid=13631.
Hamilton, Walter. The Æsthetic Movement in England. Reeves & Turner, 1882. HathiTrust. Web. Feb. 2017. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044108411505;view=1up;seq=5.