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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Wilde's discontent with public opinion

The reason behind Wilde's dissatisfaction with the public's attempt to judge art is that the public judges art by what has been. Anything that is not familiar the public rejects. According to Wilde:

"They are always asking a writer why he does not write like somebody else, or a painter why he does not paint like somebody else, quite oblivious of the fact that if either of them did anything of the kind he would cease to be an artist. A fresh mode of Beauty is absolutely distasteful to them, and whenever it appears they get so angry, and bewildered that they always use two stupid expressions—one is that the work of art is grossly unintelligible; the other, that the work of art is grossly immoral. What they mean by these words seems to me to be this. When they say a work is grossly unintelligible, they mean that the artist has said or made a beautiful thing that is new; when they describe a work as grossly immoral, they mean that the artist has said or made a beautiful thing that is true." (p. 37)

The public has no trouble appreciating the classics because they have already been declared so, but they object to contemporary works that present anything unfamiliar. Wilde makes the case that Victorians who venture outside the norm would not be truly appreciated during their lifetime because the Victorian public could not be made to value art with any touches of originality. Wilde maintains the artist must be given freedom of expression, even if that freedom is used to expressed insensitive subjects. Wilde states "to call an artist morbid because he deals with morbidity as his subject-matter is as silly as if one called Shakespeare mad because he wrote King Lear." (p.38)

It is for this reason that Wilde advocates socialism, in order to avoid a society in which man "cannot freely develop what is wonderful, and fascinating, and delightful in him—in which, in fact, he misses the true pleasure and joy of living." (25) If an artist dwells under a system that hampers his creativity, it disturbs his joie de vivre.

Painting above is "Joie de Vivre" (1906) by Henri Matisse.

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