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Aesthetic Movement

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Term designating late-nineteenth-century enthusiasm for opulent arts and handcrafts, especially within a domestic context. Advocating beauty as a touchstone for every aspect of life, it grew from the critique of mass production that spawned the related but more socially conscious Arts and Crafts movement. Instead, the aesthetic movement subscribed to the philosophical aestheticism of art for art's sake. Valuing rich visual and associative effects, its products often found inspiration in exotic or historic cultures. Complex visual spectacle, uninhibited patterning, and luxurious ornamentation stand among characteristic features. Because the movement advocated orchestration of entire interiors, the demand it generated for luxury handcrafts intensified creativity in the design and production of ceramics, metalwork, wallpapers, furniture, and other components of home decor. Many artists turned to such media or provided congenial paintings, sculpture, or prints. Drawing on precedents in Europe, particularly England, the aesthetic movement gained widespread popularity in the wake of Philadelphia's Centennial Exposition of 1876. Many artists regarded decorative arts as progressive alternatives to academically sanctioned forms of art. As well, the movement's goals spurred collaborations among artists intent on fusing varied media into visually coherent wholes. Although sometimes capricious, the aesthetic movement at its best represented an eclectic search through history and nature for unity. Frederic Church's Olana represents with exceptional clarity such a quest. Other artists who contributed to the aesthetic movement include William Merritt Chase, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, John La Farge, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Elihu Vedder, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler.

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