Sunday, February 12, 2012



Why does Wilde's character Vivian so desperately want to save and encourage lying in art? And why does he claim that truth-telling is “morbid and unhealthy”? (172) How does this possibly connect to the idea of the kaleidoscope we’ve discuss in class?

(Maybe consider the contrast between a kaleidoscope view and this line from “The Decay of Lying”: “He has his tedious document bumain, his miserable little coin de la creation [“corner of the universe”], into which he peers with his microscope” (171). Also, drawing from Baudelaire’s “The Bad Glazier” might be useful too.)


  1. Much of Wilde’s argument here harkens back to the idea that anything that is beautiful is inherently useless, and that anything that connects to everyday life is therefore not beautiful. Truth, by its nature, must connect back to everyday life, because in our everyday life we do and experience things that are true. Therefore, putting the truth of the everyday into art will destroy its beauty. Wilde writes that “the aim of the liar is simply to charm, to delight, to give pleasure” (183). These goals can also be considered to be the aim of the artist who wishes to create beauty simply for the sake of beauty. This echoes Baudelaire’s “kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness.” Kaleidoscopes both show the world and distort the world, altering the truth with colors and patterns that in no way resemble truth. They are not true, and yet they are beautiful, and beauty is of primary importance. Wilde suggests that creating pleasure is only done by avoiding the facts of everyday, and correspondingly, including facts in art will end its ability to give pleasure.
    Regarding the purpose of art, besides giving pleasure, Wilde believes art exists not to mirror life but to create life. He says, “Life imitate art far more than Art imitates life” (185) and goes on to prove this thought by listing the number of characters that were suddenly seen populating life after a story about them was made popular. It is clear that Wilde is not being completely serious here, but his main point that life reflects upon the art that it engages with cannot be denied. As he says, “Things are because we see them, and what we see, and how we see it, depends on the Arts that have influenced us” (189). Art’s main power is its influence over the way we see things, and this influence then creates changes in our lives. If the truth of everyday life were to rule over art, then art and life would endlessly mirror each other, neither ultimately changing the other. Only if falsehood is included in art will the world change and evolve as it recreates the previously false world portrayed in art.
    This thought then leads to the question of how much Wilde was lying in writing this essay. There are clearly some parts of the article that are not true (for example, his story about Mr. Hyde), but how frequent were they, and does his use of lying influence how the article is to be read?

  2. In the Decay of Lying, Oscar Wilde critiques Art, more specifically the study of Art, as it applies to every day life. Wilde's first contention, through the character Vivian, is that "the more we study Art, the less we care for Nature." (168) His character suggests that Art reveals Nature's "lack of design," yet sees this as a good thing exposing the truth that is found in the Art. His character, in his own article, critiques those Realist writers who try to expose Art as the liar, however his critiques are so fanciful, that we are led to believe Wilde is using him as a satirical device.

    In fact, what Wilde is doing is showing how Art creates what we see in a Kaleidoscope effect. That is, it distorts the actual truth of the image behind it, as Nichole said previously, distorting it to the captivating beauty, "our gallant attempt to teach Nature her place." (168)

    For Wilde, this is a tool of pacification or mollification, and it detracts from the reality of the world. Vivian says that Art begets Nature and reality, when we know the truth to be that reality is the basis for Nature. It's almost as if the character of Vivan, who stays cooped up in his library all day and never goes out, is always sitting behind the kaleidoscope. This reinforces the idea that there is a deeper thing to be considered that people tend to ignore, and they use Art as a scapegoat for that ignorance.

    What's more, is that the themes in Wilde's actual critique, behind Vivan's critique, are seen in his other works. Having read Dorian Gray, once before, I see that there are similarities to how Wilde see's what should be the reality of Art, as well as a critique on the Victorian society he lived in. The begs the question now, how much merit does Wilde see in Art and what where to find the important messages in Art? Moreover, what constitutes the type of art that Wilde sees as allying with the true nature of human reality?

    1. Brendan Murray in reply to Thomas DraganiFebruary 14, 2012 at 2:49 PM

      I think Wilde puts a great deal of importance into art. He says in "Decay of Lying" that Art...has its own independent life...and develops purely on its own" I think Wilde values art, but not art imitating life. He would rather life imitate art, or have art so far removed from realism that it is purely aesthetic.

  3. On page 189 Wilde writes "To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing", this simple phrase really summarized some of the thoughts that were circulating in my head with regards to 1800s aesthetics. This quote can be related back to the idea of the kaleidoscope and more interestingly Baudelaire's glazier. Baudelaire's character is upset when the glazier has no colored glass, what is the point of glass without color he says. In the Decay of Lying Wilde asserts that "we do not see something until we see its beauty" . Baudelaire's represents that idea with the importance of looking out your window through colored glass, a lens to see beauty, like Art when it captures a random moment, in random place, at a random time. Lying, is another form of art, Wilde asserts. Lying is an embellishment of the truth, it is a lens by which to look at something, and the potential lens by which someone is able to see beauty, as Wilde writes "Things are because we see them, and what we see and how we see is depends on the Arts that have influenced us". Vivian emphasizes the importance of lying because she believes Art has become to trivial and overdone, there is no lens by which writers or painters look, their Art is simple that a look at Nature not the seeing of Nature, or in Wilde's words"the historians give us delightful fiction in the form of fact; the modern novelists present us with dull facts under the guise of fiction" which is to say, there is no lens to beauty in present literature and that is why lying should be encouraged, and if not lying, than embellishment, which is the prettier way of saying lying. I would argue that Wilde's story is embellished and thats what makes us see it and understand what he is saying.

  4. In “Decay of Lying”, Wilde is largely employing satire in order to emphasize the importance of aestheticism in art. He is trying to prove that life and nature imitate art, rather than art imitating the natural world. He uses the voice of Vivian to do this.

    At the heart of Wilde’s position on aestheticism is a belief that truth telling is “morbid and unhealthy”. He mainly believes this because he believes that truth telling cripples imagination. “Art never expresses anything but itself. It has its own independent life, just as thought has, and develops purely on its own lines. It is not necessarily realistic…”Vivian, and Wilde, both believe that putting truth or realism into this equation would damage the development of art.

    This world view of art and realism lends itself to an important question. Wilde seems to present this story in a rather realistic. He uses dialogue rather than a prose like storytelling, and he makes much of this dialogue flow like normal conversation. Isn’t this a hypocritical action? If he believes art should be devoid of realism shouldn’t this dialogue be much more difficult to deconstruct? In fact, how should we be able to read his work at all? If Wilde wanted his art to be purely aesthetic and devoid of realism why did Wilde choose to publish it in English rather than in incoherent babble?

  5. I feel that "The Decay of Lying" is as much a commentary about everyday life as it is about art. Vivian, who feels as though modernist art, which is more realistic than what had preceded it, is much more boring than other art forms. I believe that through this, Wilde is making a statement about society in general--that by looking at the world through a more realistic lens, the modernist society was missing the beauty that comes from looking at the world in a more aesthetic view.
    At one point Vivian makes the statement that "one of the chief causes that can be assigned to the curiously commonplace character of most of the literature of our age is undoubtedly the decay of Lying as an art, a science, and a social pleasure." I think that this sentiment essentially sums up the piece as a whole--the imagination that goes into lying is what makes it truly enjoyable, very similar to the imagination that goes into art. I thought that this statement, as well as the overarching theme of the work, was very interesting because of the way that it so eloquently alludes to the need for joy and pleasure to have no real reason.
    This was similar to Baudelaire's "The Bad Glazier." Although the glass-seller was just going about his day and doing his job, the speaker essentially assaulted him for not bringing joy to the world through colored and even "magic" glass. Baudelaire is using this to make the point that the world needs to be looked at through a more beautiful lens, and I think that Wilde is saying the same thing.

  6. In The Decay of Lying: An Observation, Oscar Wilde makes a powerful critique against realism as an art form. For Wilde’s character Vivian, realism represents a delusion of Art and Beauty. The purpose of Art is to create something beautiful and new. Realism focuses not on Art and Beauty, but on the world around it. Vivian argues that “All bad art comes from returning to Life and Nature, and elevating them into ideals” and that “the only beautiful things are the things that do not concern us” (193).

    This is where Vivian’s defense of lying comes into play. For Vivian, lying is “the telling of beautiful untrue things” and “is the proper aim of Art” (193). Art is not supposed to mimic the world around it because the world around it is not beautiful. The purpose of art is to elevate life, not mimic it. Art must produce something beautiful and true if life is going to imitate it. Life can only be elevated by Art under these circumstances.

    The function of the kaleidoscope is to create a new perspective or lens to see the world through. Vivian makes the argument that Nature and Life are not beautiful. Art does not present the poverty that realism focuses on; meaning realism is not a real art form. Realism shows the world through one lens when art should be like the kaleidoscope.