A spectator’s aesthetic excuses

Dear readers,

Art is subjective. So how do YOU see the portrait of Dorian Gray?

Well, I’ll tell you so you’ll tell me: I think Dorian is art himself. 

Thanks to the beginning of the book, along with the confession Dorian gets out of Basil, we understand that Basil creates the portrait of Dorian with intention. Basil, as an artist, paints Dorian to capture his ideal of Dorian’s essence which is the beauty of how he remained innocent in mind and body. From there, I see Dorian, as the art, becoming unconsciously aware of the subject and employing it for his advantage so that he may excuse himself. Or even better, so that he may preserve the outer self that everyone else gets to interpret. Power is knowledge and knowledge changes perception…as we know, this doesn’t end up being a good thing for Dorian.

“ The young man was leaning against the mantelshelf, watching him with that strange expression that one sees on the faces of those who are absorbed in a play when some great artist is acting. There was neither real sorrow in it nor real joy. There was simply the passion of the spectator, with perhaps a flicker of triumph in his eyes.” (Chp. 13, pg 149) In this passage, Dorian finally reveals to Basil how demented the portrait has become. What I find creepy is how Dorian is described as if he’s relishing in the sight like a “spectator”; I think this means that Dorian is detached emotionally because he’s decided to stop caring about his sins. But I would also like to postulate that Dorian is “absorbed” in the way he is anticipating Basil’s reaction. 

What’s incredibly interesting is that I see this metaphor of a spectator not only paralleling with Sybil Vane but also appearing throughout the story. In chapter 9, Dorian states that “To become the spectator of one’s own life, as Harry says, is to escape the suffering of life” (pg.107). I believe this connects back to my earlier point where I offer us a way to think about Dorian’s mentality with the immoral acts he’s committing. Half of what makes Dorian an art is the literal portrait that essentially takes the hits for him while the other half is his state of being. What I’m trying to say is that Dorian watches people fall victim to the portrayal of his beauty and finds pleasure in it. *Purrs* Kinkyyyy (no? Too soon?). In all seriousness, Dorian is like a child relying on the privilege of his youthful beauty to get away with anything. He detaches himself as a “spectator” so he doesn’t have to “suffer” with the guilt of his actions. 




4 thoughts on “A spectator’s aesthetic excuses”

  1. I like this reading of Dorian. I think it makes sense to view Dorian himself as the piece of art. Not only for the reasons you’ve detailed above, but also that Dorian’s beauty has permanence. It is assumed that he would have remained the same had he not attempted to destroy the painting, or rather, had he not attempted to destroy his own beauty. As this was truly the goal of destroying the painting. Thus, the only time we see Dorian face consequences for his actions is when he tries to destroy his beauty, the central piece of art in this novel.

  2. I love the format of the post! It’s interesting to think about how Dorian gets away without feeling too guilty. In a way, the ending is reflective of this spectator idea as he believes that killing the painting will also kill this “evil” within him. In this sense, he does not see himself as part of the evil and thinks that it is the fault of art. Perhaps he also hates the painting at the end because it does not mirror that beauty that he believes he has. I wonder how that can tie in.

  3. This perspective is very illuminating because we have spent the entire unit on this novel discussing the importance of art and what its role should be. Dorian being art himself allows us to make a deeper connection to all of the theories and claims we have been making. It’s interesting because the way I saw the connection between Basil and Dorian, especially the murder, was that Basil was killed by his own art because he refused to let it be seen by the world. If art is meant for pleasure and to be experienced, by deciding to keep it hidden away allowed the beauty to fester into ugliness. Your blog post further supports my initial take on the ending of the book so I appreciate your analysis.

  4. This is a really good close reading of Dorian. I think seeing him as a spectator is a good way of thinking about it as well. Dorian never takes responsibility of his actions. This is in part because he never faces any true consequences, until he dies of course. Yet, there is more than just dismissal of the things he’s done, as you note here. There is that element of feeling completely disconnected from everything. How might we use that to understand the message Wilde is attempting push with this story?

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