Friday, 13 May 2011

Oscar Wilde on art

At the moment, I am reading the Picture of Dorian Gray on my Amazon Kindle. If you know the story, a painting plays a central role in the plot.

When I read the Preface, I could see that Wilde’s words were speaking beyond writing and to art in general.



Three quarter length portrait of Oscar Wilde by Napoleon Sarony. Source: Library of Congress via WikiMedia

Quotes from the Preface

“The artist is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim.”

“Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty.”

“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.”

“The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium. No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved. No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style. No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything. Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art. Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.”

“Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital. When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself.”

And Wilde closes his Preface with the following ironic statement: “All art is quite useless.”

Oscar Wilde is almost too quotable. His writings are peppered with witty comments and aphorisms that sometimes distract you from the plot of the novel. This makes reading his work both highly entertaining and irritating. It is a little bit like listening to these too clever people who always get a laugh in society…

Related resources

Biography of Oscar Wilde on Wikipedia

Picture of Dorian Gray available for free on Project Gutenberg in many electronic formats, including PDF.


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