My guess is that the obsession with image sharpness started somewhere around the time digital photography hit its stride. People used to accept cameras and lenses the way they were. From Polaroids to disposable film cameras to 35mm film cameras, I never heard people place as much emphasis on lens clarity as they’ve been doing recently.
In fact, portrait and “glamour shots” type photographers employed special techniques to actually soften images. Anyone remember the nylon hosiery over-the-lens (or the touch of petroleum jelly over the lens filter) trick? Portrait photographers had high-end lenses in their arsenals that were designed for soft-focus (e.g. Mamiya 150mm SF-C portrait lens). This has even been done in movies and television. Gosh, some of those 80s shows like Dynasty had me wondering if something was wrong with my eyes when they’d do close-ups of some of the female leads. I was too young, and it would be too weird, to have intermittent cataract issues. So, no, that was some serious soft focus.
Personally, I got bored with the super-sharp, punchy, crisp digital look about a year into my DSLR journey. That’s why I still love film and film cameras. And that’s why I’ll go to the lengths of adding blur digitally at times. Nothing about what we see and how we see it is very sharp. Everything that matters is a little blurry. Sometimes I like to use blur to reflect that, to make an image feel more like a thought or memory.