From Wilde, “The Critic As Artist”:
We, in our educational system, have burdened the memory with a load of unconnected facts, and laboriously striven to impart our laboriously-acquired knowledge. We teach people how to remember, we never teach them how to grow. It has never occurred to us to try and develop in the mind a more subtle quality of apprehension and discernment. The Greeks did this, and when we come in contact with the Greek critical intellect, we cannot but be conscious that, while our subject-matter is in every respect larger and more varied than theirs, theirs is the only method by which this subject-matter can be interpreted. England has done one thing; it has invented and established Public Opinion, which is an attempt to organise the ignorance of the community, and to elevate it to the dignity of physical force. But Wisdom has always been hidden from it. Considered as an instrument of thought, the English mind is coarse and undeveloped. The only thing that can purify it is the growth of the critical instinct.
If we were to go around today imitating Wilde and extolling the virtues of Criticism, we’d surely be ridiculed as elitists. And yet he’s right: we need more “discernment,” more shades of gray, more analysis rather than simple appreciation. Which is why, of course, it’s worth starting a Journal of Popular Gaga Studies. If we allow appreciation of our day’s cultural icons to lead to thoughtful criticism, we can accustom ourselves to applying our intellect to the world around us, and broaden our perspectives in the process.