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How Art Relates To Oscar Wilde's The Picture Of Dorian Gray

907 words - 4 pages

How Art Relates to Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray is a novel about a young,

handsome, and vain man who has his portrait painted, and impulsively wishes

that he could forever remain just as handsome as he is in the painting -- that the

painting would age instead of him. He gets his wish in a most eerie way; as, with

passing years, he becomes increasingly dissolute and evil, while the changes

that one would expect to appear on his face are reflected in the portrait instead.

What this book is about, clearly, is feelings and appearances becoming real. This

motif is echoed and re-echoed throughout the book. Early in the novel, Sir Henry

Wotten -- a cynical hedonist -- gives Dorian a book about people who tried to

experience everything, both good and evil, and Dorian decides to try it; in other

words, he models his life after a work of art. The fact that Dorian's one female

love is an actress -- a person who wears masks and pretends to be someone she

is not -- reinforces this motif. When she reveals herself to be real, his repugnance

for her is so overwhelming that it reaches out like an evil spirit and kills her;

Dorian therefore murdered Sybil as surely as he would murder Basil later on.

We tell small children that their feelings are not actions and therefore have

no repercussions of their own, but deep in our psyches we know this is not so.

The reason tribal cultures wear ceremonial masks is to embody their sacred spirit

they make the spirit real by simulating his appearance. Similarly, Lord Henry

observes of Dorian that "Ordinary people waited till life disclosed to them its

secrets, but to the few, to the elect, the mysteries of life were revealed before the

veil was drawn away. Sometimes this was the effect of art, and chiefly of the art

of literature, which dealt immediately with the passions and the intellect. But now

and then a complex personality took the place and assumed the office of art, was

indeed, in its way, a real work of art, life having its elaborate masterpieces, just

as poetry has, or sculpture, or painting" (Wilde, 72). Dorian, Lord Henry is

arguing, actually is a plastic, organic work of art, in a continual state of progress.

Yet if Dorian is a work of art, the painting is real life. It is clear that the only

character in the book who is consistently honest and straightforward is the

painting, which reflects the changes that Dorian's own face should reflect as his

personality becomes more and more evil. Here Wilde may be reflecting his own

...

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