The Critic as Artist | Study Guide

Oscar Wilde

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The Critic as Artist | Main Ideas


Art Comes from the Individual

Ernest posits that works of ancient art come from the collective imagination rather than from individual artists. Gilbert explains that it is not correct when words are turned into poetry or when art receives a beautiful form. Gilbert maintains that art requires style, style requires unity, and unity is something that is created in the individual. He doesn't deny that some of the great artists like Homer (c. 9th or 8th century BCE) and William Shakespeare (1564–1616) had old ballads and stories to work from but those were rough material. Poets take the rough material and shape it into song and then it becomes theirs. Gilbert posits that the longer a person studies life and literature, the more certain they will become that there's an individual behind every wonderful creation.

Art Is Immoral

Gilbert claims that all art is immoral. He says "emotion for the sake of emotion is the aim of art." In real life people have to be more practical and consider that "emotion for the sake of action" is the practical organization that upholds society. Things like morals, productivity, and hard work are necessary to the function of society but they mean death to art. The artist needs time and space to sit and contemplate. Contemplation may be a grave sin where society is concerned but it is the "proper occupation of man" according to high culture.

Ernest seems unconvinced that contemplation is the proper occupation of man. Gilbert continues to explain. Doing nothing is the most difficult and most intellectual thing a person can do. Doing nothing is the reason that carefully chosen people with artists' temperaments exist.

Thoughts Are Dangerous

Gilbert tells Ernest that art is immoral and posits that thought itself is dangerous. He explains that a healthy functioning society relies on habit, unconscious instinct, and a lack of intelligence among the populace. He maintains that in general people are aware of this which is why they work so hard to keep their intellect from intruding upon their lives.

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