Something Extolling the Virtues of Art for Art's (or Artist's) Sake?

I’m looking for a text accessible to a (smart) High Schooler in which a point of view is set forth (and effectively argued for) that amounts to saying that an artist* creates her work just for the sake of creating it–that showing the work to other people is just a bit of commerce and is not essential to (indeed is detrimental to) the pursuit of art itself.

Well… anyone know of anything?


*Any or all media

“The Soul of Man Under Socialism”

Art history prof capybara is someone you might want to ask. You could also direct your student to the paintings and writings of James McNeil Whistler, or perhaps Robert Henri (The Art Spirit) “What we need is more sense of the wonder of life, and less of the business of making a picture.”

My Name Is Asher Lev

Hmm. I’m not sure about this premise you’re so sure of (making art for external observers is detrimental to art? Or, “expression” and groovy bliss or something like that perhaps, but art itself?) but you’ll have to pitch something Whistler-or-after, since before Whistler very few would have made such a statement (as someone who specializes in art before 1850 or so I find the idea bizzaro). It’s an argument that is made, but. . .
An excellent work on the aesthetic experience in general is John Dewey’s Art as Experience–a bright high schooler should find it readable. I think to find exactly the sentiment you’re looking for you’ll have to look for writings by some avant garde artist. Actually finding the Whistler-Ruskin back and forth screeds might be interesting. I think Fessie as an artist might be a better person to answer this-- her ideas sound like very good leads. I’ve never read that Robert Henri but it sounds like a good thought.
I’m wondering why you’re taking up this argument, by the way: is said kid planning to go to a trade art school rather than a lib arts college or something, or wants to be a business major for the money? Have you been having ‘modern art sucks’ discussions or what? Is the kid a young Republican? What’s the agenda?

I’m not so sure I buy into your premise. It could be argued that making art without an audience is just wanking.

In contrast, I’m reminded of Glenn Gould’s attempt to remove the artist from the equation when he stopped touring altogether and refused to be interviewed about his music. I believe he jokingly referred to the artist as dictator.

Of course, I also don’t entirely buy into that viewpoint either. Rather, I’ve always believed the essence of art to be a dialogue between the artist and audience. Each side is critical to the experience.

To the last two posters: It’s not my premise. I’ve got a work already which tends toward the opposite conclusion, and I want to have my student also read a work showing the point of view I described in my OP.


It’s a subject that gets batted around a lot - I don’t think that, for most working artists, the answer is entirely A or B. It’s really no different from anyone else trying to earn a living.

Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word is a fascinating look at how theory shapes art (in certain small, but influential circles). Might be worth a read.

Why? Hodge is right. Art without thought to your audience is masturbation. IT would be like buying a book on baseball that only tells you how to look your best in an uniform.

What’s wrong with masturbation?
Frylock, I could come up with a micro-survey of art history/ criticism for the kid if you like-- for a variety of perspectives and such. The view you’re talking about is pretty much out of vogue, except with the most curmudgeonly minimalists and misanthropes, but Whistler might be a great place to look for the traditional approach to the art-for-art’s-sake thing.