Home » Oscar Wilde: Writer During Victorian Period » The Critic as Artist Essay by Oscar Wilde

The Critic as Artist Essay by Oscar Wilde

One of the many essays included in Oscar Wilde’s only book of criticism, Intentions, was, “The Critic as Artist”.

Summary of The Critic as Artist Essay

The story is basically is written dialogue form between two friends, Ernest and Gilbert, which is spread out in two separate acts. Generally, Ernest asks questions to Gilbert and so, Gilbert seems like he is Wilde’s representative for his philosophy of criticism.

In this essay ‘The Critic as Artist’, Oscar Wilde made it a point to present the aesthetic philosophy in a dialogue between the two characters – Gilbert and Ernest.  Gilbert lets Ernest know that in reality, true art only derives from criticism – that critical thought is directed by the soul as well as in the aesthetic sense.

Oscar Wilde tries to portray how one attains and maintains a critical spirit through the dialogue models. One can clearly see that the dialogue is skewed in favor of Gilbert’s ideas, whereas, Ernest’s quick ability to grasp and assimilate what Gilbert has said, and lastly, the aptitude to ask productive questions makes him an appropriate model for what is meant by independent learning.

Ernest is serious, and he is bright. He does not accept Gilbert’s word as it is, but he permits himself the room to ask questions, and requires Gilbert to spend time explaining in great detail. When Ernest recapitulates Gilberts’ ideas, he essentially “tries them on” for himself, but then quickly moves on to his next question.

This is the very strength of mind which Gilbert expresses: one need not be constant and steady, but in order to truly realize the truth of oneself, one must try on different modes of thought, checking them all the while with the material of one’s own heart.

The way Ernest is illustrated is really significant to the piece because he presents the possible and impending scepticisms and disagreements that critics, of this essay, could have. It is quite the appealing dialogue between the two and it is such a creative method, in itself, of being a critic. Maybe, it might be an exaggeration, but it feels like Oscar Wilde is trying to create an example of his argument through this piece.

According to Gilbert, the scientific principle of heredity shows we are never less free, and never have more delusions or false impressions than when we try to act with some conscious aim in mind. Critical contemplation is steered by conscious aesthetic sense as well as by the soul. Oscar Wilde writes, “The soul is wiser than we are, it is the concentrated racial experience revealed by the imagination.”

Famous Quotes from ‘The Critic as Artist Essay’ by Oscar Wilde

Cheap editions of great books may be delightful, but cheap editions of great men are absolutely detestable
Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist

Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.
Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist

A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.
Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist

There is no sin except stupidity.
Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist

We teach people how to remember, we never teach them how to grow.
Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist