Aestheticism (also the Aesthetic Movement) was an art movement in the late 19th century which privileged the aesthetic value of literature, music and the arts over their socio-political functions. According to Aestheticism, art should be produced to be beautiful, rather than to serve a moral, allegorical, or other didactic purpose, a sentiment exemplified by the slogan "art for art's sake." Aestheticism originated in 1860s England with a radical group of artists and designers, including William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It flourished in the 1870s and 1880s, gaining prominence and the support of notable writers such as Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde.
Aestheticism challenged the values of mainstream Victorian culture, as many Victorians believed that literature and art fulfilled important ethical roles. Writing in The Guardian, Fiona McCarthy states that "the aesthetic movement stood in stark and sometimes shocking contrast to the crass materialism of Britain in the 19th century."
Aestheticism was named by the critic Walter Hamilton in The Aesthetic Movement in England in 1882. By the 1890s, decadence, a term with origins in common with aestheticism, was in use across Europe.