Have you ever read something and you are not really sure if the writer's intent is to be sarcastic or serious? I am questioning my impressions of Oscar Wilde's preface in The Picture of Dorian Gray in exactly this manner.
Though I am swaying toward the serious assumption, I think the sarcastic tinge that accompanies this start, comes from the way it is written; strict statements, such as "There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book" remind me of Aristotle's strictures, which I think are pompous.
The style harkens back to Aristotle. However, this preface goes beyond Aristotle's foundation laying of what is good artwork.
Instead, it poignantly expresses generalizations concerning the audience's role in artwork. The people surveying beauty: critics, specifically, are the subject of Wilde's preface. Critics are what make books "moral or...immoral", and the statement that "No artist is ever morbid" makes me think of a namecalling critic, to whom Wilde indirectly refers.
Wilde echoes Eliot in separating the artist from the work, but as Wilde mentions, "To reveal art and conceal the artists is art's aim"--a sort of enactment of Eliot's understanding that one should create by "conscious and deliberate [thought]".
I also appreciate Wilde's warning that "all art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril". What messes up art in any form are the viewer's impressions.
As Wilde states, "It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors." This sentence reminds me of the "If You Know What I Mean" improv game from Whose Line is It Anyway? As an audience member, one can take whatever one wants from a statement. While Colin or Ryan may be implying much more than the traditional artist, the implication is not only factor in the equation.
**I killed a tree. I printed out half of The Picture of Dorian Gray. I swear, treehuggers are going to chase me down someday.Posted by Amanda Cochran at February 22, 2005 11:59 PM | TrackBack