Why Oscar Wilde is wrong about the true artist

Oscar Wilde spitting out nonsense

The great Oscar Wilde says, “A true artist takes no notice whatever of the public. The public are to him non-existent.”

Sorry, Oscar Wilde, but you are wrong. A true artist expresses and communicates to the public. An artist that does not care for his audience is an ignorant jerk.

How can someone completely ignore the audience? If you don’t create for someone, you are only creating for yourself. Which is fine, but don’t expect there to be a long line of people wanting to see your pity art.

Wilde explains,

“The work of art is to dominate the spectator: the spectator is not to dominate the work of art. The spectator is to be receptive. He is to be the violin on which the master is to play. And the more completely he can suppress his own silly views, his own foolish prejudices, his own absurd ideas of what Art should be, or should not be, the more likely he is to understand and appreciate the work of art in question.”

Being receptive and open-minded to looking at art is a great notion. We should all have minds so playful to entertain new concepts. But the reality is that we all carry around our own baggage. We have perceived notions and ways of interpreting things. To ignore that is to ignore humanity.

Artists should be completely receptive to what the viewer brings. Just as the viewer is receptive to the art, the artist needs to reciprocate and allow the viewer to bring his/her own meaning to the artwork.

To say that the art is to dominate the spectator is to be a bully. It’s to be arrogant. It’s to be domineering. It’s to be a jerk.

Being a jerk doesn’t help you to communicate with people. It’s simply being a jerk.

Oscar Wilde, I love your call for people to be more open-minded to art, but please be open-minded to your audience.

There are two extremes of artmaking that Wilde brings up:

  1. The artist who placates to the public’s whims. This artist bows down to all the current trends. The artist who doesn’t give any personal thought.
  2. The other end is the artist who wants viewers to bow down immediately to his art. The public to not have any other thoughts about what the artwork could be.

Oscar Wilde is writing about how artists should not be like the first extreme. If you make art that follows the trends, you lose your personality. But Wilde goes so far in his argument that he goes to the other extreme where he wants his personality to be the only arbitrator on what his art is.

The best place to be is in the middle. Be an artist who communicates to the public. Art is always about a communication. What are you communicating? Communication is always a two-way street. If it’s a one-way street, then it’s merely broadcasting. Oscar Wilde wants artists to be broadcasters.

If an artist wants to try to be a broadcaster instead of a communicater, that’s fine. But then the artist shouldn’t get up on his high horse and expect people to bow down to his artwork. If his artwork happens to be great, then that’s great. If it’s not, then it’s not.

If his artwork happens to be interpreted in other ways, then that’s great. An artist shouldn’t get all pissy that someone doesn’t pay attention to his work. If nobody pays attention to your artwork, then suck it up.

Wilde wants to say “I and I alone” determine what my artwork is. in his exact words: “He is not the arbiter of the work of art.” (He being the viewer).

Oscar, please allow your audience to decide for themselves what they think of your artwork. Readers, what do you think about this? Let me know in the comments. Thank you.


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10 years ago

I think for Wilde’s quote to have any value he needed to added “opinion” after “public”. modified version: “A true artist takes no notice whatever of public OPINION. Public OPINION to him is non-existent.” I don’t necessarily agree with that idea either, but it speaks more to the idea that artists should not feel obligated to let public opinion be the guiding force in their work.

3 years ago
Reply to  unlikelymoose

That is what he meant. He left it for us to be understood.

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10 years ago

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10 years ago

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Sila Mahmud
10 years ago

nice post

Nam H. N Truong
9 years ago

glad to hear, just because you don’t share his views doesn’t mean you should call him an ignorant jerk. I take back what i say about you too

Nam H. N Truong
9 years ago

sadly, Wilde will always be right, and you, wrong. People who create art just to satisfy a portion of the public can only be considered an entertainer. He doesn’t have something that’s called an artist’s freedom. his art is limited by what people wanted to see. A lot of great artists never was famous until they are dead: Edgar Allen Poe, Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, Picasso.. but their art always find a way to be accepted in time. Wilde is not the ignorant jerk here, you are. He’s one of the greatest minds to have ever appeared on earth. The “art” that you so wanted to see, it’s called pop music, specifically made for an audience

3 years ago

You are right.

3 years ago

I can’t say that you are an ignorant jerk. The narrow boundaries of society do not accept it.
But seriously, HOW COULD YOU!!!!
Oscar Wilde, for one matter, meant that an artist who changes , or rather , perverts his work according to the shallow masses is nothing but a shallower impostor.
Art does not need to be appreciated to establish itself. What da Vinci’s contemporaries would have thought about his thinking was that he was just gliding in the clouds, but today 500 years after his death , we are ranking him as one of the foremost geniuses of the world .
Art is immortal. Art is timelesss . In one age or another , people understand its importance.
For all it is , who gave you the authority to ‘correct’ Oscar Wilde. This shows that there is a universal degradation in people’s understanding of the arts all over the world.
And still, it might be one of his obscure epigrams, which neither you nor any oneof us could decipher…

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