The Preface

THE ARTIST is the creator of beautiful things.

To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim.

The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography. Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.

Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope.

They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

The nineteenth century dislike of Realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.

The nineteenth century dislike of Romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.

The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium.

No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved.

No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.

No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.

Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art.

Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.

From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician.

From the point of view of feeling, the actor's craft is the type.

All art is at once surface and symbol.

Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.

Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.

It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.

Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.

When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself.

We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it.

The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless. OSCAR WILDE.


  1. Once again, this goes back to the concept of Art for the sake of Art "L'Art pour L'Art" that exists at the epicenter of the aesthetic movement. Art is not supposed to educate, moralize, judge, or condone. Art is created for the purpose of admiration. If it is meant to educate, then it is no longer meant to be merely admired. It loses its purpose altogether. 

    — M.P. Ossa
  2. This is an example of a typical Wildean paradox. Obviously, things that are true can be proved. However, Wilde adds irony to this statement to provoke curiosity among his followers, and discomfort among his critics. 

    — M.P. Ossa
  3. The ultimate goal of Art is to transform the imperfections of being human.

    — M.P. Ossa
  4. An artist is not a moralist, however, they have the artistic license to use someone's moral choices as a theme for an artistic work. 

    — M.P. Ossa
  5. This refers to the aesthetic ideal of Art. Art is not meant to educate or moralize. Writing, as an art form, is meant to inspire. If a book leaves a bad impression upon the reader, it is not due to the topic dealt with, but due to the writer's lack of artistic skill. 

    — M.P. Ossa
  6. This is a direct jab at Victorians. Wilde was consistently criticized by prudish Victorians for his effeminate use of the word "charming" to describe things. To be "corrupt without being charming" is a message to his critics, telling them that they are ugly people as it is, with the added insult of the use of the word "charming" yet again. (See Oscar Wilde: his Life and Confessions by Frank Harris).

    — M.P. Ossa
  7. Vice and Virtue would be the modern "Ying and Yang," or polar opposites. The more extremes an artist can experience, the more artistic experiences the artist can produce.

    — M.P. Ossa
  8. Victorians were quite hypocritical. On a societal level they preached virtue and prudishness, while poverty, opium dens, and prostitution grew more and more rampant. Wilde would have known this, as he was friends with Alfred Taylor, a notorious street chap who procured male escorts for upper class men (see The Trials of Oscar Wilde by H. Montgomery Hyde).

    — M.P. Ossa
  9. The term "elect" refers to those who have finally realized the aesthetic ideal of finding nothing but beauty in Art. 

    — M.P. Ossa
  10. People can only judge others according to what they can draw from their own lives. Their judgment is a reflection of themselves, and not of the artist. 

    — M.P. Ossa
  11. This is not a compliment. Wilde is basically saying that critics could never understand artists, therefore, their opinions on art are null. 

    — M.P. Ossa
  12. The true artistic signature, according to Wilde, will stamp itself through the universal recognition of the artist's style, rather than the artist's name. 

    For example, Wilde's writing style is so recognizable in his comedies of manners that, had he gone anonymous, people would have still recognized him as the author of his plays. 

    — M.P. Ossa
  13. Notice Wilde's terminal use of the word "beautiful." He leaves no room for any other descriptor of art. He does not say "The Artist is the creator of beautiful and not-so-beautiful things." Art is ONLY beautiful. 

    — M.P. Ossa
  14. Criticism should not count in Art, since there is no rubric to determine what is good, better or best. Whatever critics say should not matter to the artist, whose goal is to create art. 

    — M.P. Ossa
  15. By "new" Wilde does not refer to "recent," but to something so well-made that, even if it is hundreds of years old, it still inspires discourse and argument. An example is the Mona Lisa. 

    Wilde described himself as a "lover of the young in everything"; this is why he uses the word "new" almost interchangeably with "worthy," "impressive," and even "beautiful."

    — M.P. Ossa
  16. Literally paraphrased, it means that you cannot "read into art" the way you would read into a history  or a science book, for example,  where there are clear patterns and trends established by facts. 

    — M.P. Ossa
  17. Art is meant to imitate life and represent it in multidimensional varieties.

    — M.P. Ossa
  18. Another example of the aesthetic principle of L'Art pour L'Art, Art for Art's sake. Wilde insists that the public should cease to judge Art and, instead, admire it for what it is: a product of a higher emotional, even spiritual, state.

    — M.P. Ossa
  19. This is a reference to Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. The character of Caliban is the half-man, half-beast who inhabits the deserted island where the main characters have wrecked.

    — M.P. Ossa
  20. This celebrated and controversial statement embodies the aesthetic ideal that Art should not be used as a conduit of morality, judgement, or condemnation. To Wilde and the aesthetes, art is amoral. It exists merely for its own sake, "L'art pour l'art." Hence, when the word "useless" is applied to this statement it is used in its literary, and not in a contextual, meaning. Art simply is to be admired, not "used."

    — M.P. Ossa