My Art? Whose Art? I’ve Never Seen this Art Before in My Life!

“It was some foul parody, some infamous, ignoble, satire. He had never done that. Still, it was his own picture.” (Wilde 131)
These lines reflect the tenuous ownership between artist and observer of the art itself. Basil sees his art pulled and twisted into a shape that, in his mind, he never gave it, but that it nonetheless grew into. Yet he still has to recognize his own art in the twisted image it’s become–his signature still scrawled in the corner. For Dorian, though, the painting has become a tool and a scapegoat that he can use to present a semblance of respectability to the world and be judged for that, much like many cults, criminals, and monsters in the real world can present their twisted views under the guise of a more beautiful piece of art. Moreover, Basil, the artist, thinks he has a right to his unchanging art being immortalized, while Dorian has, admittedly unintentionally, co-opted the artwork of himself to suit his own needs and desires. (It is literally his portrait after all.) We tend to understand art as being immortalized and timeless, but while the physical object may or may not deteriorate, vastly changing the way we view it (usually only through discolored varnish rather than a supernatural curse), but so does context. A portrait of a known murderer would become despicable to a viewer without supernatural interference.
When a parent “creates” a child, it may be with a design that determines their most indisputable content. But as they grow into individuals, they inevitably develop their own souls, regardless and sometimes in spite of their creators’ intentions. Is art any different? Does it have its own soul? Much like the meeting of Basil’s intent and soul meeting with Dorian’s soul animating the cursed painting, maybe only in the meeting of souls between the creator and the viewer can art be animated. In that case, the only difference between the souls of art and human is that art can grow infinite new souls that live in each person that experiences it. Wilde’s fantasy captures a thought experiment in which this endoparasite, the soul of an artwork, in some way becomes external and causes the host to become dependent on the leech, perhaps more real than himself.
The true irony, of course, is that Wilde’s own words do not belong to himself. The Picture of Dorian Gray will become his downfall when his own words are twisted and presented back to him, forcing him to take ownership of its now-distorted form.

2 thoughts on “My Art? Whose Art? I’ve Never Seen this Art Before in My Life!”

  1. Your point of the corruption/deterioration of the painting made me think a little about Michaels Field’s poetry. In Dorian Gray, Basil’s art gets corrupted once it leaves his studio/he releases it into the world. I think this says something about how artists don’t have control over their work once they’re finished – interpretations are up to the audience. With Field, it made me wonder if their written interpretations of the art might be viewed as corrupting it/changing it from its “natural” form.

  2. Your idea of art having its own soul and becoming dangerous reminds me of Dionea, particularly if we read it through the lens of Dionea being a ship’s figurehead come to life. Dionea takes this concept to the extreme, as she is art with a soul and body, making her an even greater threat. We obviously see the dangers she poses throughout the story, and yet it’s never literally Dionea causing damage or death but rather her intangible influence. Anyway, I think you could draw some interesting comparisons between Dorian Gray and Dionea.

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