Monday, February 27, 2012

Wilde: Option 2

[Posted by Sam]

After finishing the novel do you feel that Oscar Wilde is writing a cautionary tale that aims at viewers of art, or the painters of part. On that same coin, does Wilde promote the theory "art for arts sake" or is he suggesting that art has a much more profound role in the world."


  1. After reading the novel, I was left with the impression that the story was a cautionary tale that aims at the viewers of art. Take Dorian, for example. He constantly reflects on his portrait which grows more sinister and decrepit as the years pass. Although he is viewing a portrait of himself, which was painted by a separate individual, the painting acts as a both a cursed mirror and a blessed fountain of youth. Dorian, as a figure of pure aestheticism, has no depth. He only possesses his beauty. This is pure artifice.

    This work of art allows for the emergence of a new personality, a new Dorian. With this new Dorian he is essentially limitless. He is free to live his life however he see fit without any consequences and implicit in this theme, setup by Wilde, is anarchy. He has the unabashed freedom to be whoever he wants. Although this serves in his favor for a large portion of the book, the curse of his youth and the work of art which he conceals ultimately becomes his undoing. As we have read from Pater, the consequences of complete and utter limitless are negative.

    However, it could be argued that since Basil (the creator of the art) was ultimately destroyed by Dorian that it is also the artist who will suffer for creating a truly magnificent work of art. Thus, it can be argued that Wilde is suggesting that both the viewers of art as well as the painters of art are at risk for succumbing to the destructive yet beautiful power of aesthetic beauty.

  2. I think Wilde might be writing a cautionary for both the artist and the critic, displaying how horribly wrong art can go if either of the two perverts it. I think the warning to the artist is conveyed through Basal because he puts too much of himself into his art, and as Wilde states in his preface: "the purpose of art is to conceal the artist." It seems Wilde wanted to be very dramatic in condemning this behavior because since the lines between Dorian the painting and Dorian himself become so blurred, Dorian himself becomes Basal’s art personified and when Dorian murders Basal, it can be gleaned that Basal putting too much of himself into his art literally kills him. There is another artist in the work however and that is Lord Henry, he manipulates Dorian as his living art. He preaches about hedonism and the importance of “searching for new sensations,” but hedonism in art and aesthetics, not actions, he doesn’t indulge in every pleasure himself he just manipulates his art to, he experiences unrestrained pleasure through Dorian, Dorian seems himself seem to mirror the novel itself. Dorian is like the novel and Lord Henry is the author manipulating or ‘writing’ about “ugly” things, not actually doing them himself. This is like Wilde himself writing about the “ugly” things in the novel, but it doesn’t make him immoral or the book immoral, but if a critic sees ugly things he is seeing it in himself. In this parallel that would make Dorian, as the art, not immoral as art itself because art itself is not moral or immoral. However Dorian is not just the art, but the critic as well, and seeing all the “ugliness,” appear in the actual painting “is a fault,” of the critic as Wilde says in his preface—really Dorian is seeing the ugliness in himself—it seems Wilde likes to be really dramatic and literal because in this case Dorian literally sees the “ugliness” that is truly him in the painting, but he is allowed to conceal. But Wilde’s point, I think, is that you can’t blame the art, it is you. And I think when Dorian tries to destroy the painting it illustrates that, he tries to stab it, but he ends up stabbing himself, so it wasn’t the art that was immoral or “ugly,” but the wrinkled old Dorian with a knife plunged into his chest.
    I don’t think Wilde is suggesting that art has no profound role in the world, but I also think he does believe in art for art’s sake. I think Wilde might feel there is just no set meaning to art, that art itself is meaningless because the creator of art holds a certain meaning of what they think their art is when they create it, but the work does not take it on itself, and when the critics view the art they interpret their own meaning relevant to themselves from that art, but again the art itself holds no meaning on its own.