What my writer friend should have known about me, but didn’t, was that I own a book in whose index the phrase “Art for Art’s Sake” appears.
Art for Art’s sake is the academic way of saying we produce art (music, writing, film, paintings, sculpture) because we are moved to do so by emotions and intellect which cannot find outlet in any other pursuit.
Academics defend this behavior because many of the productions of these efforts have been exquisite.
Art for mass consumption is often referred to as middle-brow art and is usually sufficiently entertaining , as to garner attention, and sufficiently intelligent so as to not feel like a total waste of time. Some producers of middle-brow art might be Maroon 5, Khaled Hosseini, or Francis Ford Coppola. These artists have commercial success and there is some intrinsic value in their production and their craft.
Middle brow is not always high craft, it usually leans more toward the sellable than the refined. But it’s popular for a reason: it’s easily digestible and of high enough quality that it feels like authentic art. It makes us work a little bit to understand the deeper more complex human conditions it describes. But we don’t have to work too hard.
I have been saying I wanted to produce a book-clubbable book. I want to write something that’s good enough to discuss but it doesn’t have to be high art. High art is that which is produced primarily for its craft.
Some time ago, I wrote about an artist here in Columbia that is producing that kind of work. I also went to a book event with some Clemson faculty and alumni in which we discussed Cloud Atlas around the time the film was released. That book I would consider “high art.” It was written to explore literature technique and style. It used the human condition as more of a back drop to that the point.
The fact that its film featured Tom Hanks may be evidence of a crossover attempt. But really, the art was the point.
That is art for art’s sake.
When we take the material with which we work and examine their elements and then draw them out, reshape them, bend them to see how pliable they are, then we are working within the art not for the purpose of expressing ourselves, and certainly not for the purpose of appealing to others, but for the purpose of pushing the limits of what we know.
My Letters to Richard Ford project is like that. I have the idea of examining what we understand to be the appeal of great fiction: its ability to draw out our empathy for the human condition. I have the idea of arguing that it is not empathy which attracts us to great art.
It’s a willingness to be changed and the work that fulfills that desire.
The work that changes us is what is most gratifying.
When my writer friend asked, “Who would read that?” I thought, “Who wouldn’t?”
To see related posts click here and here.