When Oscar Wilde wrote his piece, The Critic as an Artist, in the early 1890s, his idea of a ‘critic’ and of an ‘artist’ was different from the meaning of one today, where there are not any Monets, Manets, Degas and Renoirs sprouting up. In order to properly understand a work of art, it is important to notice the time it was made. For example, Wilde reasons that “it is the critical faculty that invents fresh forms” but whose ‘critical faculty’ was he considering (900)?
Wilde means that critical thinking is the seed of remarkable and legendary art. Not all artists are critics, some artists regurgitate popular culture, but all remarkable and legendary artists, like that of Da Vinci’s Monna Lisa or even Walter Pater’s words that describe the painting, “hers is the head upon which all ‘the ends of the world are come,’ and the eyelids are a little weary,” are works of art (906).
Wilde argues that all “beautiful” art, whether it is paintings on canvas or words on paper, is derived from critical thinking. He explains, “Without the critical faculty, there is no artistic creation at all worthy of the name. That spirit of choice, that subtle tact of omission, is really the critical faculty” (900). For a piece of art to be different and exquisite, no matter the medium, the artist has to have a critical eye and a spirit different from the rest.
Following this thought, Wilde describes, “the mere creative instinct does not innovate, but reproduces” (902). Wilde acknowledges that not all artists, or critics, are brilliant thinkers—the “mere creative instinct”—and do not have the ability to reflect deeply or develop a profound feeling. He states the “highest Criticism deals with art not as expressive, but as impressive” meaning that only art that is “impressive” is paired with “impressive” criticism (905).
He recognizes that not all artists are critics and not all critics are artists. Only those artists who are exceptional are critics, and likewise, those critics who are exceptional are artists.