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Download this article Oscar Wilde prefaces his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, with a reflection on art, the artist, and the utility of both. After careful scrutiny, he concludes: In this one sentence, Wilde encapsulates the complete principles of the Aesthetic Movement popular in Victorian England.
That is to say, real art takes no part in molding the social or moral identities of society, nor should it. Art should be beautiful and pleasure its observer, but to imply further-reaching influence would be a mistake.
Rather, the proponents of this philosophy extended it to life itself. To the aesthete, the ideal life mimics art; it is beautiful, but quite useless beyond its beauty, concerned only with the individual living it.
Influences on others, if existent, are trivial at best. Many have read The Picture of Dorian Gray as a novelized sponsor for just this sort of aesthetic lifestyle.
In the novel, Lord Henry Wotton trumpets the aesthetic philosophy with an elegance and bravado that persuade Dorian to trust in the principles he espouses; the reader is often similarly captivated.
It would be a mistake, however, to interpret the novel as a patent recommendation of aestheticism. Dorian Gray personifies the aesthetic lifestyle in action, pursuing personal gratification with abandon.
Yet, while he enjoys these indulgences, his behavior ultimately kills him and others, and he dies unhappier than ever. Rather than an advocate for pure aestheticism, then, Dorian Gray is a cautionary tale in which Wilde illustrates the dangers of the aesthetic philosophy when not practiced with prudence.
Aestheticism, argues Wilde, too often aligns itself with immorality, resulting in a precarious philosophy that must be practiced deliberately. Dorian Gray is often read as an explicit proclamation of the worthiness of living life in accordance with aesthetic values. Oscar Wilde, however, proposed that the principles of the Aesthetic Movement extend beyond the production of mere commodities.
Speaking of aestheticism, Wilde is quoted: I mean a man who works with his hands; and not with his hands merely, but with his head and his heart. The evil that machinery is doing is not merely in the consequence of its work but in the fact that it makes men themselves machines also.
Whereas, we wish them to be artists, that is to say men. Every impulse that we strive to strangle broods in the mind, and poisons us. Lord Henry warns that without an enthusiastic embrace of aestheticism, one will perpetually anguish with the desire of precisely what he must deny himself, all for the sake of propriety.
This, however, is too shallow of an interpretation. Opponents of a purely aesthetic lifestyle will certainly cite what they consider an inevitability: It is at these times that the virtues of the wholly aesthetic life become questionable. The ruination of Dorian Gray, the embodiment of unbridled aestheticism, illustrates the immorality of such a lifestyle and gravely demonstrates its consequences.
Wilde himself admits, in a letter to the St. And the moral is this: Aestheticism does well to condemn the renunciation of desires, but it is an excessive obedience to these desires that is subversively dangerous. The character of Dorian Gray and the story of his profound degeneration provide a case study examining the viability of purely aesthetic lives.
Dorian lives according to what Lord Henry professes without hesitation, and what Lord Henry inspires Dorian, through persuasive rhetoric, is an attitude indifferent to consequence and altogether amoral.
Dorian pursues Sibyl from first sights, intent on acquiring her before he ever attempts to truly know her. For Dorian, whose uncontrolled aestheticism rejects the concept of morality, the immorality of his actions goes unrecognized.
In his pursuit of his own pleasures, a distinctly narcissistic attitude emerges, and the incompatibility of morality and unconditional aestheticism becomes all the more apparent.
This self-absorption, then, appears to be an inevitable consequence of aestheticism. Only a more deliberate practice of aestheticism may harness this egotism and avoid the immorality Dorian embodies.
According to mythology, Narcissus, upon catching a glimpse of his reflection in a pool, becomes so enraptured by it that he stood and admired it endlessly, unmoving for the rest of his life.
Eventually, as in the myth of Narcissus, such egotism has its consequences.
In the end, as a testament to the purely aesthetic life, the only legacy Dorian leaves behind—everything that identifies him as who he was—is his superficial jewelry.Communication skills are essential for today's workforce.
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