Aestheticism By Ingelbien, Raphaël
Aestheticism refers to a late-Victorian tendency to argue that art is its own justification and should therefore be judged by purely aesthetic criteria. Closely related to the doctrine of l’art pour l’art (art for art’s sake) put forward by Théophile Gautier and to the radical aesthetic theories of Charles Baudelaire, British aestheticism found its leading exponent in Walter Pater. His work had an immediate and profound impact on writers and artists like Oscar Wilde, who are sometimes referred to as aesthetes, and more often as decadents, and his lasting influence has been traced in the work of several major modernist writers.
As a category of English literary history, the term “aestheticism” is a relatively recent scholarly construction. However, contemporaries used words like “aesthetes” and “aesthetic” to designate the late-Victorian phenomenon. The Greek word α ἰ σθητικός refers to “that which is perceptible by the senses;” in modern European thought, aesthetics is a branch of philosophy that analyses the ways in which artworks produce sensations in spectators and, more broadly, the nature and role of art.