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Abstract Aestheticism In Oscar Wilde's The Picture Of Dorian Gray

2706 words - 11 pages

19th century England was entrenched in the idea that art could be used as not only a method of expression, but also one of social advancement. With this idea at its forefront, art suddenly inundated places where art was never previously found, such as social education and morality. In contrast, Oscar Wilde was a key advocate of an idea known aestheticism, a concept that relied on art simply being art. Oscar Wilde played a major role in Victorian England, having a major influence through his writing. At its peak "the movement had a disdain for any traditional, natural, political, or moral ideals; rather, the importance of nonconformist form and subject matter were fore grounded" (Majer). Wilde suggested that art should hold no purpose in society and merely exist for its beauty. He argued, as any aesthete would, that by giving art a value greater than its beauty, society is in turn ruining it. He also added that art must be looked at as a whole, and only those who can see the complete "picture" can truly understand the meaning behind art, while also seeing into the artist's soul. In the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde portrays aestheticism in many ways, mainly through art and the human soul. Wilde, comparable to a puppeteer, manipulates each character in order to ultimately depict the ideas behind aestheticism; he plays upon each characters eternal search for contentment, their connections with their inner souls, and their various ties with art. With each character's actions, Wilde reinforces the overarching theme upon the true purpose of art, but at the same time warns the reader against aestheticism in its purest form.
Each character in the novel searches for the elusive goal of happiness, but is never able to attain it. Through each character's search for contentment, Wilde is able to portray to the reader one of the cornerstone ideas behind the aesthetic philosophy. "To the aesthete, there is no distinction between moral and immoral acts, only between those that increase or decrease one’s happiness; yet, Dorian Gray refutes this idea, presenting a strong case for the inherent immorality of purely aesthetic lives" (Duggan). When the reader is first introduced to Dorian Gray, he radiates the young naiveté similar to that of a child, but Lord Henry completely alters Dorian's personality. "The Lord Henry that Wilde projects is, in accordance with Wilde’s expressed philosophy, the ultimate artist" (Shuman). Dorian becomes Lord Henry's canvas, with each word acting as a brushstroke on Dorian's life. "'Yes, he was certainly wonderfully handsome, with his finely curved scarlet lips, his frank blue eyes, his crisp gold hair. There was something in his face that made one trust him at once.'" (2354) Yet instantly Wilde introduces to the reader that Dorian is simply a representation of the true aesthete, personifying the philosophy that beauty is the only motivator in life. "Dorian is both a figure representing the sacred virtues of art...

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