DEAL WITH IT
| Oscar Wilde Famously Wrote:|
The artist is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim. The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.
The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography. Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.
Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty. There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.
The nineteenth century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.
The nineteenth century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass. The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium. No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved. No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style. No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything. Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art. Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art. From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor's craft is the type. All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril. It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors. Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital. When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself. We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.
All art is quite useless.
To Which Bosie Responded:
These remarks have been held up to us as Wilde's credo, and slight and few though they be, it is the fact that they do really epitomise what some people call his ''teaching." One has only to glance at them, however, to perceive that without exception they are either obvious or perverted truisms or the merest glosses on quite hoary critical adages.
For example, "The artist is the creator of beautiful things" must have been said at least a thousand times before Wilde suddenly rushed upon the world with it as a new and marvellous discovery. "To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim" is a very cheap variant of the saying that language was invented to conceal one's thoughts, or Horace's old tag: ''Ars est celare artem," "The highest and lowest form of criticism is a form of autobiography" is merely to say what was said by Rousseau — namely: that all writing is in essence autobiographical; while "It is the spectator and not life, that art really mirrors" is merely Shakespeare's "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," clumsily rendered. All the talk about there being no such thing as a moral or an immoral book, and about art being quite useless, is the merest perversion and fiddle-de-dee, as anybody who is not in the last stage of idiocy will perceive for himself.
I maintain that this statement of Wilde — which, by the way, did not originally appear as a preface to "Dorian Gray," but was painfully and carefully compiled when its author was at the height of his achievement and wished to pontificate — shows us clearly the nature of the man's mind, which was a shallow and comparatively feeble mind, incapable of grappling unaided with even moderately profound things, and disposed to fribble and antic with old thoughts for lack of power to evolve new ones. It was a mind which was continually discovering with a glow that two and two make four, or pretending to discover with a much warmer glow that two and two make five. In every scrap that he wrote, leaving out, of course, the poems, you will find this feeble, mediocre, but, withal, vain-glorious instrument hard at work on the fearful business of saying nothing in such a way that foolish people will shout about it.