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Wilde's weird theory of art .Oscar Wilde was born at Westland Row in Dublin in 16th October 1854 as a second child of Sir William Wilde and Jane Francesca Wilde. Wilde lived during the Victorian era as writer and poet and who was able to achieve his fame as one of the London's popular playwrights. During his lifetime has a writer and poet, Wilde wrote several materials that portrayed his view for art. Unlike most of the writers of the time, he belonged to a literary movement of aestheticism. This movement of writers had a different view of art and their artistic products were criticized for being immoral and sinful. However, Wilde and his colleagues did not give up their intentions to free art from social responsibility. During the time of Wilde, people believed that art was a social tool that could be used to educate the society and correct social evils. This is clearly shown in the writing of Dickens and Gissing who used their artistic skills to correct social evils in the society.
The aestheticism movement had a different view of art and this led Wilde, who was the leader of this movement, to disagree with the likes of Dickens and Gissing (Pater 89). This movement was motivated by the immorality among the young people who did not bother to learn from art. According the followers of this movement, art had a more important role to its lovers other than what many people perceived to be. Aesthetics can be defined as the judgment of sentiment and taste. It is a study in philosophy that highlights the nature of beauty, especially in art. Aesthetics is generally concerned with conception and admiration of beauty. His theory of art as presentation of beauty has been in all his works, especially in his book "The picture of Dorian Gray"
This book was first published in Lippincott's monthly magazine in 1890. However, the book was strongly criticized as immoral and Wilde was forced to revise it one year after publication. Wilde added a prelude to his work in order to convince the Victorians that he did not promote immorality but only his viewpoint of art. His novel 'The picture of Dorian Gray' is believed to be a gothic horror that portrays a Faustian theme. The narrative about a young man called Dorian gray whose value for beauty overcome even the love he had for his soul. As the story opens, Hallward is impressed with Dorian's beauty and he offers to paint his portrait. This introduces Wilde's view for art. He believes that art is a presentation of beauty and one should use it to achieve what pleases his/her soul (Wilde 22). It is out of beauty that Hallward is attracted to a fellow man Dorian although he was aware that Victorian society had no room for this kind of relationship.
As the plot of the novel opens, Dorian meets Lord Wotton who also believes that beauty was the only thing to pursue in life in order to satisfy our senses. This is the second man to admire Dorian who blindly then believes it was worth selling his soul and ensure that his portrait aged instead of himself. Surprisingly, Dorian's wish is fulfilled putting him into immoral acts. Afterwards, he is involved in bad practices such as killing and sexual immorality throughout his life. Gray, who has a "face like ivory and rose leaves", is overwhelmed by the appearance of his finished portrait and he breaks down, distraught that his beauty will fade, but the portrait will stay beautiful (Wilde 72). He is ready to defend his portrait even with his own life a trait that explains his love and value for beauty. To him, the portrait reminds him of all the sins that he had committed and it takes all the effects that his sin could have to his soul. His dreams comes true since even after allowing his wife to take her own life due to frustration, he could not be recognized, " he appeared too young to have committed that crime eighteen years ago". His beauty enables him to escape punishment from the mistakes had done many years ago. So far, it becomes evident that every reader could conclude that indeed this book admitted immorality.
However Wilde strongly defended his work arguing that this was actually his view and philosophy for art. Wilde believes that art is a tool of beauty and not a source influence as many Victorians had perceived. He expresses this theory through Dorian who uses his beauty to satisfy his senses without considering the impact of his immoral deeds to his reputation. He goes further to claim that art had power to cover individual's problems, a situation that he presents through Dorian's portrait. All through his life, Dorian committed several crimes that he claims never affected his soul. On the contrary, his portrait carried the burden. Anytime Dorian had committed a crime or immoral act, his portrait seemed to change its looks. He claims that he never grew old and it was only his portrait that was aging. Wilde clearly reveals his love for aesthetics. He was writer who believed that art was a tool of beauty that facilitated ones' self satisfaction and not a social influence as many Victorians and writers of his time believed. Wilde went further to defend his work by claiming that his plot was "an idea that is as old as the history of literature but to which I have given a new form" (Wilde 46-47).
In his book 'The picture of Dorian Crag' Wilde explains the purpose of art as one of the themes. Basil's painting of Dorian's portrait and the yellow book that is offered to Dorian by Lord Henry dominates the works of art in the novel. Although it is not clear what the intentions of the yellow French book were, the intentions of Basil while painting the portrait are clear. He claims that art is "unconscious, ideal and remote". This is clear indication of Wilde's perception of art. As follower of aestheticism, Oscar Wilde believed that art had no other purpose to the society other than to offer beauty. Through out the novel, beauty dominates as the core theme and it seems to have the ability to refresh the wearied senses. This is clearly indicated by the influence that Basil's painting has to the sarcastic lord Henry. Beauty as seen in art enables one to free himself from the brutalities of the world (Wilde 66). The author clearly reveals this philosophy of art through character Dorian who is uses his portrait to free his conscious from the horrors of his actions. Dorian also concentrates in the study of beautifully artistic things such as music, jewels and rare tapestries.
It is no doubt that beauty based on surfaces does not live longer. What is important to Dorian, Lord Henry and the polite company is just the surface beauty that can be looked at as being handsome and not the actual inner beauty portrayed by one's clean conscience. Dorian continues to live his immoral life without censure and Basil lives a live of his choice without bothering about the requirements of the society. He even goes a head to warn people not to question his name and reputation. Narborough notes to Dorian that there was no distinction between ethics and appearance, "You are made to be good-you look so good". She argued that Dorian was beautiful and therefore and this qualified him to be ethical (Wilde 92-93)
It is crystal clear that Wilde theory of art was really wild. He believed that art had no relationship with social practices. Having lived during the Victorian era when immorality was the order of the day, his writings were strongly criticized to be immoral. However, he stood firm and through the aestheticism movement to prove to the society that art was not meant to influence the social life of the people as many perceived. He argued that art had only one intention; to show the strength of beauty. Wilde writings appeared to promote immorality to the society but actually proved his aesthetic philosophy for art.