What is art?! What does art mean?! What does Wilde mean?!

My original title was “Art is alive because art reflects life,” but I’ve seemed to go down a rabbit hole and bounce around ideas, so let’s just go with it! 

Casting the fantastical aside, the portrait exhumes Dorian Gray’s evilness and dooms Gray to be beautiful forever. Wilde writes of another piece of art, “who must wear purple and jewels and fine linen that she may hide the pallid macerated body that is worn by the suffering that she seeks for, and wounded by self-inflicted pain.” (128) Gray is describing his art collections, and he names this particular piece “The Bride of Christ,” followed by the previous description that seems to reflect himself. He describes “The Bride of Christ” as a woman who must hide her small, sickly body with beautiful, expensive dress. As mentioned in class, people in the Victorian Era believed that evilness presents physically on the body. Wilde addresses this concept by bringing up the image of “The Bride of Christ,” but ultimately pushes against this ideal through Gray’s beautiful exterior yet immoral, murdering interior. Gray is similar to the woman in that he is hiding something ugly with a beautiful exterior, but unlike the woman he is privileged with natural beauty and does not have to disguise himself in expensive dress, because gray has help from the portrait. The more corrupt and evil Gray becomes, the uglier the painting becomes. 

Gray is not the only person reflected in the painting. The artist himself, Basil, is also reflected in the deteriorating painting, symbolizing both muse and artist’s soul. Unlike Gray, Basil tries to redeem his soul. Although, when he seeks Gray for redemption, he is murdered as a result. Similarly, The Portrait of Dorian Gray is a work of art that ultimately causes his demise and lands him in jail. Gray is inspired by a real person, reflecting Wilde’s personal life as well as his own beauty standards as Gray is especially beautiful. Therefore, Wilde is the artist and, again, Gray is the muse. Gray is a manifestation of Wilde’s art. Through the overly complicated and contradictory The Portrait of Dorian Gray, Wilde asks the reader to consider “What does art contribute to society? Does art reflect life or teach lessons? Can art do both?” Even though Wilde claims “All art is quite useless” in the preface, the rest of the book proves his point wrong through the image of both human and portrait of Gray. Wilde is saying art derives from something; art comes from the soul, therefore art reflects life. 

2 thoughts on “What is art?! What does art mean?! What does Wilde mean?!”

  1. Nice observation that, since Basil has put some of himself in the painting, that its deterioration reflects on him, too. Does Basil need forgiveness? Has he done anything wrong? He was implicit in Dorian’s corruption; he is friends with and introduced Dorian to Lord Henry. What does this all have to do with Basil’s soul? Could this have to do with Basil’s reaction to Dorian’s fall? Is his soul being corrupted by proxy, or does his heart just break by seeing Dorian like this?

  2. Dear morrisog,
    You’ve truly enlightened me. I never considered that Dorian could be an extension of Oscar Wilde himself but having read your post, I think you’re right. Your reading has added to my research on The Portrait of Dorian Gray as I found out that Dorian and his portrait act as a double where the portrait essentially represents Dorian’s darker side. Now, I think its possible that we can consider Dorian to be Oscar Wilde’s double: Dorian freely indulges but these indulgences of his true desire are sinful and ugly. Oscar Wilde had to hide his sexual tendencies from the public because homosexuality was unheard of and scandalous. How fascinating!

Comments are closed.