Most aesthetic concepts are theological ones in disguise. The Romantics saw works of art as mysteriously autonomous, conjuring themselves up from their own unfathomable depths. They were self-originating, self-determining, carrying their ends and raisons d’être within themselves. As such, art was a secular version of the Almighty. Both God and art belonged to that rare category of objects which existed entirely for their own sake, free of the vulgar taint of utility. And it has is had gone on from there.
Some would argue further that 'Art' and the aesthetic are both bourgeois and theological.
In their freedom, independence and glorious pointlessness, works of art were images of men and women – or at least of what they could become under transformed political conditions. In this sense, art was a politics all of its own, pointing to a future society in which human Before long, even more extravagant theologies of art were being launched. From Baudelaire to Yeats, the work of art was believed to reconcile the sensuous and the spiritual, or the concrete and the universal. It embodied a kind of mini-Incarnation, the point where time and eternity intersected. Those who found the divinity of Christ hard to accept could turn to Browning or Hopkins instead.
It was no accident that this exalted vision of art grew stronger with the advent of industrial capitalism. The artwork was the enemy of industrial production because it was an example of creativity rather than manufacture. That it was fast becoming just another market commodity made this all the more poignant. If you wanted an example of non-alienated labour, you looked to the poet or painter. The work of art itself could be seen as a peaceable utopian commonwealth, its various elements blended into unity without violence to their particularity. Like the good society, it combined freedom and community. The aesthetic was the last refuge of mystery in a drably rationalist world. Perhaps the artwork was the one thing left that had a value rather than a price, and didn’t exist for the sake of something else. Like God, poems and symphonies existed just for the hell of it. As the idea of God was gradually ousted, art was on hand to fill his shoes. Like him, it was a repository of absolute value. Like him, too, it was transcendent, universal, unified, all-seeing and all-sympathetic. It was a pity, though, that only a few thousand individuals actually bothered about art, whereas countless millions had devoted themselves to God. This meant among other things that art, or culture, was to prove a far less potent ideological force than religion had been. However much the artist recycled himself as a secular priest, art could not hold a candle to religion. But art at least had the advantage of indubitably existing, which was more than could be said for the Supreme Being.For one thing, God’s act of creation is from nothing, which can scarcely be said of Mansfield Park or Dead Babies. Like cooking or carpentry, art requires raw materials
William Blake thought that art should not be too obvious in case it fell into the rationalist trap of false transparency; but he was also quick to see how cults of mystery were exploited by both priest and king to legitimate their power. There is no reason to assume that artists have been immune to this vice.
Source Terry Eagleton London Review of Books