Wilde on Art and Individualism

Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man under Socialism is poorly named, given it’s age (first published in 1900) perhaps intentionally so, but is still very much worth reading. His real point is anti-capitalist – raging against the ills of private property, charity, wage slaving, but where he is most eloquent is in the relationship between art and individualism:

A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament.  Its beauty comes from the fact that the author is what he is.  It has nothing to do with the fact that other people want what they want.  Indeed, the moment that an artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply the demand, he ceases to be an artist, and becomes a dull or an amusing craftsman, an honest or a dishonest tradesman.  He has no further claim to be considered as an artist.  Art is the most intense mode of Individualism that the world has known.

In the current ‘attention economy’ age it has become too easy to confuse the “worth” of art with the views, likes, impressions it generates. This is, of course, intentional on the part of the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. the data aggregators. In terms of “art for it’s own sake” it is sad to see how easily (and hard) we’ve all fallen into their trap.

Wise words...

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