Assess the idea of “Art for art’s sake” expressed in Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy’s poem “We are the Music Makers”.
O’Shaughnessy’s famous ode “We are the Music Makers” does not directly reflect the theme of “art for art’s sake”, but it has a touch of that. The poet here celebrates the immortality of art and the artists, irrespective of the occurrences in the outer world and irrespective of the age and place they live in.
The poem uses various expressions like “music-makers”, “dreamers of dreams”, “movers and shakers” to glorify the artists and their achievements. It describes the life of an artist, the beauty of their artworks and their impact on their surroundings and on the world outside. The artists have the potential to shake the world with the radical thoughts, feelings and realisations which they deliver through their artistic creations — through their music, stories, visual arts, stage performances and so on.
But the movement of “art for art’s sake” emphasizes only on the aesthetic importance of art, and believes that art needs no justification and that it need not serve any political, didactic or other purposes.
The idea of “art for art’s sake” is brought into it when the poet conveys that the artists go on with their creations even in difficult situations. Often it gets difficult to survive solely on the meagre sustenance they manage to gain for themselves through their art. But they never stop. Art goes on in its own way irrespective of the outer world. And that must be for the aesthetic pleasure art brings. The artists reflect their creative impulse when they say —
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;
So, to conclude, the poet not only touches upon the idea of “art for art’s sake” in his poem, but also celebrates the impact of art upon the society, upon the outside world.
I’m not convinced this poem is about art alone. I think its theme is far wider. It’s about transience and the ephemeral: how humanity both builds and destroys. Nothing is permanent. So it’s about real people then, who perhaps think they and their earthly achievements are immortal. It brings to mind Shelley’s famous poem: “Ozymandias” – which expresses similar themes, epitomised by the final line:
“…nothing else remains”.
I could have gone into far greater detail, but I hope you get my gist!