Anti-Aestheticism

You've likely heard of Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) and the Aestheticism movement, but how much do you know about Anti-Aestheticism? The definition of the theory can be found by considering what's opposite to Aestheticism. While both views have their advantages and disadvantages, Anti-Aestheticism prioritised realistic, grounded, and challenging literature that had a clear moral purpose.

Anti-Aestheticism Anti-Aestheticism

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Table of contents

    Anti-Aestheticism definition

    In finding a definition of the movement, we must consider Anti-Aestheticism theory as a blanket term covering various literary and artistic movements popular in the early and mid-twentieth century.

    A basic definition of Anti-Aestheticism is that it went against the idea of creating art for the sake of art or beauty's sake. Instead, Anti-Aestheticism prioritised art and literature that had meaning and purpose.

    Proponents of the movement often wished to shed light on particular political and social issues, especially ones of injustice or discrimination.

    It is key to note that Anti-Aestheticism was not so much an organised literary movement but rather a common trend found throughout literature in the early twentieth century.

    As evidenced in the movement's title, Anti-Aestheticism erupted in the twentieth century as a direct rebellion against the Aestheticism movement. Anti-Aestheticists believed that Aestheticism had made people frivolous and apathetic, ignoring the various injustices in the world and the power art had to challenge them. Anti-Aestheticism set out to have a clear and direct message in every piece of art created and literary work published.

    Anti-Aestheticism, a black and white image of Oscar Wilde holding a cane and wearing a fur coat, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Oscar Wilde was a key figure in the Aestheticism movement that Anti-Aestheticism rebelled against.

    Aestheticism was an artistic, literary, and cultural movement that lasted from the mid-nineteenth century until the beginning of the twentieth century. It can be characterised by the emblematic phrase 'art for art's sake', coined by French philosopher Victor Cousin (1792-1867) and used by many Aesthetes at the time.

    The movement celebrated all things beautiful, be they literary works, artworks, architecture, or even people. Aestheticism disregarded the importance of morality in art and literature. Instead, it promoted the idea that being a thing of beauty was enough for a work of art to have inherent value. Popular figures in this movement included the famous Irish writer Oscar Wilde and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882).

    Another key feature of Aestheticism was the genre of Romanticism, particularly found in poetry of the time. Romanticism was an artistic and literary movement prominent across Europe throughout the nineteenth century. The movement prioritised creativity, human liberty, and the appreciation of natural beauty. It also fought against the rationalism of the Age of Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. Romanticism encouraged people to explore their own beliefs and ideals and not conform to society. Important figures in the movement included William Wordsworth (1770-1850) and Lord Byron (1788-1824).

    Check out StudySmarter's explanations on Aestheticism and Romanticism for more information!

    Anti-Aestheticism theory

    Anti-Aestheticism's development as a literary theory and movement was influenced by the development of other genres and movements occurring around the same period. Realism was particularly influential upon and representative of Anti-Aestheticism.

    Realism: a literary genre that contains believable stories and plausible plots. Works in this genre contain realistic characters doing everyday things. These stories focus on an often relatable protagonist struggling through their daily life. Examples of realist texts include The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) by Mark Twain (1835-1910) and Middlemarch (1871) by George Eliot (1819-1880).

    Realism as a literary genre had existed for some time by the early 1900s, and it had became a more concerted and cohesive literary movement throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Realism was a reaction against the frivolity of the Aestheticist and Romanticist movements. It played a key role in the Anti-Aestheticist trend of the twentieth century. Realist texts served a direct purpose, often analysing and criticising modern society. They were realistic, grounded, and did not idealise or romanticise the world. Instead, texts of realism presented a plausible version of society that did not shy away from any potential issues or inequalities. Realist texts saw their value as founded in representing the real world and communicating a moral lesson.

    Purpose of Anti-Aestheticism

    In many ways, the purpose of Anti-Aestheticism was the direct opposite of the purpose of Aestheticism. Anti-Aesthetic works rejected the idea that the value of art and literary works was found in their beauty. Instead, the purpose of Anti-Aestheticism was for works to have a more concrete purpose.

    Works of the movement tried to present a realistic and plausible vision of the world. They addressed real-world issues that Anti-Aesthetic writers felt that Aestheticism had abandoned. Anti-Aesthetic works attempted to present a more grounded viewpoint to readers, forcing them to face the reality that Aestheticism was ignoring.

    Although this was more common in the visual arts, some Anti-Aestheticism works took their realism a step further and presented grotesque and dark versions of reality. They showcased the harsher sides of life that Aestheticism blatantly rejected because they lacked the value of beauty. Aesthetic works wished to please their readers and viewers, whereas this kind of Anti-Aestheticism attempted to surprise and shock their audience.

    Anti-Aestheticism, a cartoon man in a suit in front of a laptop with red exclamation marks above him, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Some Anti-Aestheticism works went out of their way to shock people.

    Advantages and disadvantages of Anti-Aestheticism

    In considering the advantages and disadvantages of Anti-Aestheticism, we should note that these two categories represent two schools of thought. The advantages listed represent those who support Anti-Aestheticism, and the disadvantages represent those who do not, often supporting the pursuit of Aestheticism instead.

    AdvantagesDisadvantages
    Presents a realistic view of the world.Can be serious in tone and difficult to read.
    Uses relatable characters.Disregards any value that beauty may have.
    Has a plausible plot that readers can relate to.Provides no form of escapism to readers.
    Addresses real social issues and inequalities.Can be read as didactic or condescending to readers.
    Raises awareness of issues by representing them in their works.May include potentially shocking content to make the audience aware of the realities of the world.

    Examples of Anti-Aestheticism

    Despite not being a cohesive movement, there are plenty of examples of Anti-Aestheticism in literature. These were mostly realist texts, which tried to represent the world as it was and considered contemporary social issues. Read on for an example of this.

    Anti-Aestheticism: Clayhanger (1910)

    Clayhanger is a novel by British realist Arnold Bennett (1867-1931). Bennett received much criticism in his time from modernists like Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) for being too old-fashioned in his utilisation of realism. However, in more recent years, prominent writers like the biographer and novelist Margaret Drabble (1939-) have recognised the value of Bennett's plausible plots and moral lessons.

    Fact! Clayhanger was the first of a series of books. Bennett followed this novel with Hilda Lessways (1911), These Twain (1915), and The Roll-Call (1918).

    Clayhanger, set in Victorian England, follows the character of Edwin Clayhanger, a shy and retiring young man. He has just left school and has ambitions to be an architect. However, Edward's often domineering father, Darius, convinces Edward to work for him in his printing business instead. Edward's passive nature leads him to be overruled by many people in his life, including his father and his love interest, Hilda Lessways.

    Eventually, Hilda marries someone else, but this relationship comes to an unhappy ending. Edward struggles to find himself throughout Clayhanger, only succeeding in this after his father's death. He returns to Hilda, whose life has fallen apart, by the end of the novel. Despite all that has happened, Edward is still faithful to her.

    Bennett's novel embodies various characteristics of Anti-Aestheticism literature. It is a grounded, realist text that depicts plausible characters. Clayhanger deals with real social and cultural issues of the time, including patriarchal dominance and the rights of women. This is where the novel finds its value, not in the depiction of beauty.

    Anti-Aestheticism - Key takeaways

    • Anti-Aestheticism was a literary movement popular in the early and mid-twentieth century.
    • It began as a reaction to the Aestheticism movement, which promoted art for art's sake.
    • Anti-Aestheticism rebelled against this, creating literature which was realistic, grounded, and had a definable purpose.
    • It's important to note that Anti-Aestheticism wasn't an organised movement but rather a literary trend.
    • The realist novel Clayhanger (1910) by novelist Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) is an example of an Anti-Aestheticist work.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Anti-Aestheticism

    What is Aestheticism theory?

    Aestheticism is the belief that art should be made for art's sake and not contain any moral lessons.

    What is Anti-Aesthetic?

    Anti-Aestheticism was a literary movement that rebelled against Aestheticism by creating realistic works with a moral purpose.

    What are examples of Anti-Aestheticism?

    Clayhanger (1910) by Arnold Bennett is an example of Anti-Aestheticism.

    What is the purpose of Anti-Aestheticism?

    The purpose of Anti-Aestheticism was to represent the real world and to push readers to deal with reality.

    Why is Anti-Aestheticism important?

    Anti-Aestheticism was important because its works dealt with social issues and challenged societal norms. Anti-Aestheticists often wrote with the intention of challenging the status quo.

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