27 February 2010


Late Victorian playwright and critic Oscar Wilde said, "...beauty reveals everything because it expresses nothing." This points to his philosophy of the importance of the individual, called "subjectivism," in artistic and literary criticism, and which Bashford (see source below) sets within the larger context of philosophical humanism (a portmanteau term [it has various meanings]), but indicating a focus on human meaning created by humans.

To Wilde, meaning always belongs to someone, attached to and embodied in a person. Any particular meaning is not necessarily inherent in the work of art; instead, it is "revealed" by the critic, and, by extension, by the viewer of the art or reader of the literature or listener to the music. Not only is the work of art creative, but also the critic (the viewer, reader, listener) must enter into a condition of creativity when experiencing the work of art.

As indicated by the quote, Wilde sees the art (he says, "form") as not containing content--"it expresses nothing"--but as potential for releasing limitless expression by the critic--and anyone experiencing the form (the art).

All this applies to life, in that life has meanings that humans give to it. Indeed, the meaning of life, in a humanistic sense, is the finding of meaning in life, which is done by an individual.


Bashford, Bruce. 1999. "Oscar Wilde: The Critic as Humanist." Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses.

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