Even though we haven’t dived deep into Oscar Wilde’s life and work yet, I am excited to dig through the complex layers of the decadence of Wilde and the era. Previously, I had only read “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, which was a deeply introspective novel on the dangers of material beauty, but the simultaneous seductive nature of the material. This idea is central to the decadent movement, where the focus is on beauty, and enjoying that beauty no matter the form it takes.
In our first reading from Wilde, we examined “The Critic as an Artist” where Gilbert and Earnest discussed their perceptions of art and what constitutes it. Gilbert takes charge of this conversation, declaring the epitome of art as the critic. Criticism, though born from the creation of another, is its own unique creation. As the piece of art impresses upon the audience in its own way, so too should the critic. Not only should the critic analyze, but in order to be considered a true artist, must add their own ideas to enhance the art and create something new from the outline of another. After reading his ideas, they made me realize that the art that impresses upon us comes in more forms than we realize. According to Gilbert, myself and other English majors are studying to be artists. I do not know about other students, but I have never considered myself to be an artist when writing. Upon further reflection though, it makes sense. We all strive to present our own ideas and interpretations in a captivating manner for our audience. Regardless of the artistry of my own writing, Gilbert explains that not every critic is an artist because they must add their own flair and ideas to their criticism making it an entirely new piece. Because of this, many writers wear the facade of artistry while creating absolutely nothing. In the same way, there are other “artists” who merely imitate the worlds born from the minds of true artists.
Everything discussed by Gilbert and Earnest both broadened and narrowed the scope of what the definition of an artist is. In the decadent era everyone wanted to be the new thing, the new creation that rocked the world. Many fell short because art is not something to garner fame and success, but something to challenge and surprise. As we continue to read Wilde in this class, I am excited to decipher what made him so brilliant. With this first piece we read, he draws in his audience with this lively debate that feels as if there are truly two different people discussing this topic. By introducing his ideas in this way, Wilde more effectively seduces the reader to agree with him. He does not present his thoughts as the truth, but gives us a real discussion of how different forms of expression impress upon those who experience them. I hope this class will be a great way to broaden my own artistic prowess in writing.