“All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril. It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors. We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless.”
— Oscar Wilde - The Picture of Dorian Gray
I’m currently reading The Picture of Dorian Gray for the first time. I’ve read some of Wilde’s poetry,but never his only novel. I’m not disappointed so far - every page contains some kind of beautiful wisdom on life’s biggest dilemmas - sin,ageing and temptation.
As the plot is essentially based on how art and reality are related,quotes such as the above aim to explain the moral of the story to the reader I’m guessing. I’m sure it’s a feeling anyone who has tried to understand art has experienced. You can look at paintings or drawings,read books and poems or listen to music, and spend hours and hours puzzling over it. Trying to understand it,turning it inside out to find out what it means to you and then attach yourself to it,to put a bit of yourself inside it. That way everytime you come across that piece of art,it will be distorted in a way you can’t quite place,and it will never look the same again. This,as Wilde points out,is dangerous,because you end up seeing yourself clearer through the art.
Does art reflect life or life reflect art? Like the quote says,we are in love with the idea that our life and emotions could be contained within such beautiful things,often giving it meanings that it doesn’t have. Does this render it useless because we admire it too much? Obviously this is relevant to the novel because Dorian wishes so much that the painting can grow old instead of him that it does,which ultimately leads to his downfall. But could this happen to us as well? Obviously in a less fantastical way,but I wouldn’t say it’s too hard to believe that people who create art in any form,and those who experience it,can become so dissolved in it that it is impossible to view things in the same way again.