I feel that "art for arts sake" means simply creating something for the pleasure of creating something. There is no intended audience and there may be no point or reason attached to the work.
The prior posts have implied that an assignment of a value occurs when creating art. Art may be created simply for the pleasure the artist derives in creation, which is what the phrase conveys, and an artist is certainly free to do so. However, some posts, certainly from non artists, have suggested it to mean that the "highest" value assigned is when art is done without any thought of renumeration or accolade. An artist may derive satisfaction from creating art; every artist in every art form from every era would certainly conclude and agree that their creative satisfaction is increased when properly compensated for their creative ability. Had that been the case, Poe wouldn't have nearly starved to death several times and his quality of life wouldn't have degraded so that he was dead by 40. Poe was writing tongue-in-cheek. Why artists for art's sake? Do secretaries file for filing's sake, or doctors heal for healing's sake? Perhaps not.
Anything for its own sake is not assigning monetary value or value of any kind other than the mere pleasure of the object or person itself. It is pure appreciation despite any faults or flaws.
John Keats's "Ode to a Grecian Urn" underscores what has been so well explained in the above post. In this poem, the poet ponders the permanence of pursuit and desire captured in the paintings on the surface of the urn. Yet, the aesthetic beauty of this poem is clearly what predominates. In the final lines Keats writes,
When old age shall this genertion waste,/Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe/Than ours, a friend to man,/to whom thou say'st,/Beauty is truth, truth beauty,--that is all /Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
In life, beauty is certainly not always truth; the urn's message is one appropriate only in the timeless world of art.
what is meant by art for life sake merits and its demerits?
cry and a creed; it is an appeal to emotion as well
as to mind. Time after time, when artists have felt
themselves threatened from one direction or another,
and have had to justify themselves and their activities,
they have done this by insisting that art serves no
ulterior purposes but is purely an end in itself. When
asked what art is good for, in the sense of what utility
it has, they have replied that art is not something to
be used as a means to something else, but simply to
be accepted and enjoyed on its own terms. The explicit and purposive assertion of art for art's
sake is a strictly modern phenomenon. The phrase itself
begins to appear only in the early years of the nine-
teenth century, and it is some time after that before
a recognizable meaning and intention can be said to
emerge. This is quite as would be expected. For before
there can be any need and reason to assert that artistic
activity is self-sufficient and works of art are ends in
themselves, a certain intellectual and cultural climate
must occur. The essential catalyzing agent in this
process can be identified in a few words: it consists
in the tendency of the human career toward com-
plexity, specialization, and fragmentation.
As the phrase itself suggests, 'art for art's sake' refers to an attitude or a philosophy to evaluate a work of art for its intrinsic aesthetic merit, rather than any social/moral/political issue or question that it is expected to relate itself to. A work of art involves an aesthetic experience as much on the part of the artist as on the part of the reader/peruser. The value of the work lies in the value of that experience. A work of art may or may not have a bearing on any real issue/problematic, but it should not be assessed in terms of such issues. 'Art for art's sake' is opposed to the socialist/Marxist philosophical position that all works of art are purposive & belong to the super-structure founded on an economic base.
The impression created in my mind by the phrase "art for art's sake" is that the artist does not create a work of art in expectation of getting some thing in return for his efforts. The artist create the work because he enjoys the process of creating that work of art. This does not mean that the work of art will have no value after ist is created. It only means that, creating a work valued by others ins not the motivation for the artist.
Let as take the example of a singer, singing in a place where there is no one to listen. Obviously the singer is enjoying the process, but the song has no value beyond the pleasure given to the singer.
I believe there are many painters like Vincent van Gogh and Gaughin just painted impulsively what they liked to paint. Now their paintings are worth millions of dollar, but they were driven to painting not by desire to earn money but by some internal impulse to paint.
It means that it is not married to the worth of the painting in monetary terms but is valuable for the expressions, moods, and feelings it creates.
The phrase "art for art's sake," means that the intrinsic value of art is not linked in anyway to a moral, didactic or utilitarian purpose or function. It affirms that art is valuable as art per se.
It was Benjamin Constant in an entry in his Journal intime
for February 11, 1804 who first used this phrase l'art pour l'art. However, it was the French literary giant Theophile Gautier (1811-72) who adopted this phrase as a slogan and popularised it.
Edgar Allan Poe in his essay, "The Poetic Principle" (1850) offers a clear explanation of this creed. Poe asserts that a poem should be written only "for a poem's sake" and that the chief aim and purpose of a poem is aesthetic.