Discuss Walter Pater's theory of "art for art's sake"?

lit24 | Student

The English author Walter Horatio Pater (1839-1894) was the most influential figure in the Aesthetic movement of the late 19th century.

By the 1860s and the 1870s the younger generation of British intellectuals was beginning to react against the excessive weight of moral criteria prevalent in critical judgments on the fine arts. They wished to liberate art from moral and utilitarian responsibilities. Walter Pater who met Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) while at Oxford who in turn introduced him to the later Pre-Raphaelites led the way in this reaction by stressing the diversity of artistic experience and the need for flexibility in judgments. He directed critical attention to discrimination of the unique and essential character of each work of art or artist and to the precise analysis of the aesthetic effect each produces upon the individual. In short, he developed and refined critical response into a philosophy of life. His "Poems by William Morris" (1868) was the first important attempt to define aestheticism.'

Walter Pater presents his case in a philosophical way,seeking not only to extol art but also to explain and justify its preeminent importance. His aesthetic theory rests upon the contrast between the richness and fleetingness of immediate experience and the bare abstract concepts to which analytical thought seeks to distill it.Moreover he insists that the entire meaning and value of life reside in the density and intensity of experiences. The highest wisdom does not lie in explaining and rationalising things, leave alone using them but simply in sensing and feeling them. In his "Studies in the History of the Renaissance" (1873) he asserts:

“Of such wisdom, the poetic passion, the desire of beauty, the love of art for its own sake, has most. For art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality of your moments as they pass, and simply for these moments sake”.

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