February 22, 2005

To Pre-face the face:
The Picture of Dorian Gray preface analysis

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

At least you actually use what you print out. I've walked into computer labs countless times and seen huge, thick stacks of hundreds of pages of something (or just hundreds of copies of a single page) that were abandoned.

Posted by: ChrisU at February 23, 2005 1:32 AM

I do use the copy. I was going to take it out of the Mt. Pleasant Library where I work, but I know that I write a lot in the margins, so I though this would be the right route.

Posted by: Amanda at February 23, 2005 8:34 AM

Oh Amanda,
why must you hurt me so? lol. See, as an artist myself, I enjoy the reactions that viewers give when checking out my artwork. Often times artists will even create art to get a reaction. Half of art is the viewer. What good is it to paint a painting, write a book, or act out a play if there is no one there to share it with? There is of course, the art that an artist does for himself, but that is beside the point.

Posted by: Melissa at February 23, 2005 8:34 PM

Apologies, Melissa, but I think that Wilde is referring to the manner in which critics take something as "bad" or "inappropriate" when it was never intended to be either. In fact, it may not be intended for anything.

Posted by: Amanda at February 23, 2005 10:19 PM

Aha, Melissa... if you consider Wilde as an artist, then he's certainly succeeding in getting a reaction (as I've seen in your blog!).

If artists do create something specifically to confound or confuse the critics, then their art does have a kind of purpose. I don't think it's true that art is purely expressive -- as we discussed in class on Tuesday, the best artists are conscious of the boundaries they are transgressing, they carefully choose which rules to break. Wilde is doing exactly the same thing.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at February 24, 2005 12:44 AM

So are we implying that in order to be a good artist you have to be aware of what? The rules? The enviroment? Not sure here.

Posted by: Denishia Salter at February 24, 2005 9:41 AM
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