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His visitors and correspondents included many who would help form the taste of the coming age: Arthur Symons, Lionel Johnson, Violet Paget (“Vernon Lee”), and Gerard Manley Hopkins, to mention a few.
“In aesthetic criticism the first step towards seeing one's object as it really is, is to know one's own impression as it really is, to discriminate it, to realise it distinctly.” For Pater, the critic is someone who educates his sensibilities by bathing them in the subtleties of beauty, and then, by analyzing his own reactions, transforms himself into a sentient instrument for the appreciation of art.
Oscar Wilde, a former student, would praise Studies as the "golden book" of his youth, but the notoriety Pater's work attracted among traditionalists turned him away from publishing another book for twelve years.
In Studies, Pater redefined the Renaissance as a "tendency" in human civilization, rather than as a specific historical "moment"—a tendency that was born in ancient Greece and is characterized by the "desire for a more liberal and comely way of conceiving life." He would do the same to the terms "Romantic" and "classical" in an 1876 essay.
If you put only one 150 year old book of art essays on your reading list, this is the one I would recommend.
It revolutionized British art criticism, inspired—and provided a philosophical basis for--the l'art pour l'art movement, and, most important (for me at least), it expressed a new sensibility in innovative and beautiful prose--lambent, melodious, sinuous, languid and yet capable of intellectual subtlety and moral force—prose which would influence English letters for decades to come.