The Aesthetic Movement in the Victorian period reacted against the notion that art was inefficient to culture. Matthew Arnold and Walter Pater were two of the leading literary critics of the Victorian period whose philosophies of aesthetics relative to art and literature were at times complimentary and at other times at odds with each other.
Matthew Arnold found that the “philistine” middle class of Britain were demonstrating a spiritual limitedness and he wanted to help them achieve an elaborated intellectual life.
Arnold criticized his contemporary dullness and he thought that literature and art can be the “healer of a diseased society” (Greenblatt, 2006). An unadorned literature, which has the quality of “high seriousness” can guide readers and help them achieve a “richer intellectual existence.”
Therefore, Arnold thought that good literary criticism can help develop a civilized society. Without Culture, citizens cannot develop an open-minded way of thinking and they could be incapable of being critical thinkers. The only remedy to people’s dullness was culture and good literary criticism because they make humans more civilized. In the same manner, Walter Pater thought, like Matthew Arnold, that criticism helps us “to see the object as in itself it really is” and the “function of the aesthetic critic is to distinguish” and “to analyze.” Both authors think that the purpose of the critic is to analyze and to scrutinize an object but Arnold insisted that it should be done without being prejudiced and biased.
In contrast to Arnold, Pater argued that the “critic, like the reader or audience member, participates in creating meaning rather than remaining uninvolved in the work.” For Arnold, the role of the critic is “of lower rank than the creative” (1385). Pater thinks that “criticism in in itself a form of creation.”
He wrote, “What is important, then, is not that the critic should possess a correct abstract definition of beauty for the intellect, but a certain kind of temperament, the power of being deeply moved by the presence of beautiful objects” (1508). Arnold thought that aesthetic can be experienced through an objective mind and experience.
In the other hand, Pater thought that art is a sensual experience and readers should enjoy “those sensations provoked by works of art” (1506).
Matthew Arnold and Walter Pater have written about the profession of the critic in cultural and literary matters and they have both insisted in the notion that art was essential to culture. Still, Pater insisted that the critic is an active person who does not remain detached from the art and literature work.