In the Nineteenth Century, in England (and other parts of Europe), a lovely and short-lived garden bloomed: The Aesthetes. This collection of writers, artists, designers, and educators believed that Beauty was amongst life’s highest ideals—”Art for Art’s Sake” was their mantra. The Arts (including music, theatre, decorative and fine arts) should strive to provide refined, sensuous pleasure rather than conveying a moral or sentimental message. That a work of art—be it a painting, a symphony, or an inkwell (as shown above)—be beautiful to the senses is reason enough for it to be appreciated.
Oscar Wilde, James McNeil Whistler, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Aubrey Beardsley, Owen Jones, and Christopher Dresser are included amongst The Aesthetes. During this time, The West was highly-intrigued by the arts and design of The East, and “Orientalism” often graced the works and ideals of the Aesthetic Movement.
Of course, The Aesthetes were ripe for ridicule. Gilbert & Sullivan wrote the operetta, Patience, to lampoon them. The magazine Punch joined-in. And writer Evelyn Waugh, an Aesthete himself in his Oxford days, contributed to the ridicule.
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