The Critic As Artist

The Critic As Artist is one of Oscar Wilde’s most well-known dialogues and, along with “The Decay of Lying,” his best expression of his aesthetics.

This major work is particularly interesting in the context of late 20th century poetics. Like several of the younger American and British innovative poets and theorists, Wilde argues, through his character Gilbert, for the equal importance of the critical faculty with artistic creation, that, in short, the artist must be both critic and creator if (s)he is to produce great art and that the art of the critic should be as fine a creative work as that of any poet or novelist.

Against the romantic notion of the artist creating from a vast unconscious storehouse of emotions and ideas, Gilbert posits that “All fine imaginative work is self-conscious and deliberate. No poet sings because he must. At least, no great poet does. A great poet sings because he chooses to sing...There is no fine art without self-conciousness, and self-consciousness and the critical spirit are one.”

Published originally in 1888, The Critic As Artist is almost as timely today as if it were composed in 1988.