Maybe Beauty Isn’t The Best Metric For Determining One’s Character

The ending of Dorian Gray is perhaps the most interesting close to a story we’ve engaged with this semester. I’d like to use this blog post to consider Dorian himself as the piece of art, rather than the portrait. This idea is mirrored in the final paragraph of the story, as the portrait re-claims its original youth at the conclusion of the story. It contains all of the “wonder” of Dorian’s “exquisite youth and beauty” (188). In addition to this, art has premance. Paintings look the same whether you view them ten minutes after their completion or twenty years later. This is the case for Dorian. 

If Dorian himself is the piece of art, given his position as the most beautiful man in England, he is also the best artwork in England. Thus, I would argue the novel is a cautionary tale about art for art’s sake. Wilde is suggesting that perhaps there should be substance to the beautiful rather than just existing because it can.

Dorian is assigned value, and is considered virtuous purely because of his beauty. His character is not taken into account. Lord Henry goes as far as suggesting he could not possibly be a murder because he is so beautiful. Yet, it is only when Dorian attempts to destroy the artwork, himself, not the ugly, evil portrait that he dies or rather realizes consequences for his actions. Thus, Wilde warns the reader about the hazards of his own philosophy. He considers potential negatives of assuming that beauty is all that matters. One might view the novel in a similar vein as “Stan” by Eminem. Both ponder, and give voice, to critiques of their philosophy or actions. In the case of Eminem, that the things he says in his music have real world consequences. For Oscar Wilde, that using beauty as the sole metric of measuring the worth or morality of a human being can also have negative consequences. 

6 thoughts on “Maybe Beauty Isn’t The Best Metric For Determining One’s Character”

  1. I really love your modern take on Dorian Gray, and how it could be not only a story but also a cautionary tale. We’ve talked a lot about what it means to have art for arts sake, especially how it appears throughout the novel and how that pertains to decadence. I loved your last bit relating Wilde’s novel to Emininem, and transitioning this older piece of literature into a modern day context. Really Creative! I feel like you could expand this idea by grounding it in more close reading, and dive into how Wilde explores this idea throughout the unravelling of the plot – where does he sprinkle the idea of soul transference?

  2. I do 100% think that Dorian can be interpreted as a work of art himself, especially given the close connection between his soul and a physical painting. I would encourage you to think about the themes of aestheticism in this book, and how people of the time were appreciating art for art’s sake — as well as beauty for beauty’s sake. Dorian Gray is an aesthetic piece of art that people enjoy for his inherent aesthetic value, and nothing more. No, his character wouldn’t be taken into account as pure aesthetes who treated Dorian as a work of art simply would’ve appreciated his beauty value.

  3. I definitely like the interpretation of Dorian as art, making him a dangerously easy to underestimate force for art’s sake. However, I think this line of thinking can become even more interesting if considered against Lord Henry, who is in some ways perhaps closer to being art. Lord Henry quite literally just reflects the world back to those around him, without taking any action himself. Arguably his actions cast the biggest shadow of any character in the book if he can be considered responsible for what Dorian turned into, but importantly he never directly interferes, only challenges people’s preconceived notions, the way art does. Dorian, despite presenting a piece of art to the world, does literally step in to murder Basil–and notably, Henry thinks him incapable of such an act, because he considers Dorian to be a more perfect work of art than himself, also influencing merely through influence. I think this analysis becomes even stronger when contrasting Lord Henry’s character against Dorian’s, because it asks the question of what art might really be capable of. Everyone acknowledges that art can influence people’s views of the world, but the art of The Picture of Dorian Gray twists the world around it by pushing a little farther than it should be able to.

  4. I love your tie with Stan by Eminem and how Dorian Gray ties into modern context. I wonder if you could expand and talk more about how we can apply this in an everyday context. Being surrounded by media and pictures almost all of the time, I think there’s a lot to say about how we can interpret art on an everyday basis.

  5. Dear Arvin Otic,
    I agree that Dorian is art himself but his beauty is just one part of it. Yes, “His character is not taken into account” but that’s only by other people who are viewing him. Dorian’s portrait very much takes his character into account because it morphs to reflect the deviance of his character as he continuously corrupts that pure naivety we see at the beginning of the story. In addition, you’re not wrong that Dorian is an art in the way he doesn’t age. But his portrait is art because it represents an ideal form of beauty (as crafted through the eyes of Basil) which catalyzes Dorian’s transformation into a purely physical ideal form of beauty. Inside, he has a perverse longing for pleasure that is disguised by his looks. So it’s very much “more than meets the eye.”

  6. I agree a lot with the belief that Dorian is a cautionary tale for when we overindulge in art. Dorian becomes so engrossed in his self being beautiful that his soul in return becomes ugly. I also read Dorian a very impressionable because from the beginning of the story Lord Henry’s cynicism leaked into Dorian.

    Ultimately, I believe Dorian is just an example of tragic art.

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