The influence of art on life


The novel presents a contrast between art and life. Art possesses beauty and form; it is contrasted with the ugliness and shapelessness of real life. Lord Henry encourages Dorian to treat his own life as if it were a work of art. He must experience it fully, as one would a piece of art, but at the same time remain detached from it, in the way that one might appreciate a great painting or a play. This involves a paradox: he must be at once involved and uninvolved, fully participating, not drawing back from anything, but always remaining a spectator. Such is Lord Henry's notion. He is depicted as being a connoisseur of all the arts and surrounds himself with objects of beauty. He maintains the essential detachment that enables him, or at least he claims it does, to avoid the pain of the world. It also means that he does not adopt moral positions on anything, since that would mean taking life more seriously than art. For Lord Henry, the purpose of life is not to exhibit one's moral prejudices but to contemplate beauty.

The contrast between art and life can be seen in the chapters that describe Dorian's walk to the theater where Sibyl Vane performs and on his ride to the opium den. In both instances, the sordidness of these parts of London is described. Dorian feels this keenly, and he takes refuge in the art that Sibyl creates. Her value to him is that she enables him to live out Henry's creed. When she ceases to show an interest in art, Dorian ceases to be interested in her. On the ride to the opium den, Dorian's position has changed. He now embraces the ugliness of life. He has forgotten the creed that Henry taught him. He has exchanged art for life-and that itself is a sin, in Oscar Wilde's credo.

The novel opens with a theory of the purpose of art, which Wilde reasons out until he reaches that “all art is quite useless”. Whether or not this is some kind of warning from the narrator, we as readers don’t know, but what follows certainly seems to illustrate his point. It presents art in many forms and the danger of it when it is taken too literally or believed too deeply. It starts with a painting, which alters the perspectives that look on it and seems to alter itself. Once Basil has attributed to the painting the power of capturing the spirit of Dorian Gray, and once Dorian has attributed to it the power to host and represent his own soul, the painting has a dangerous life of its own. Dorian’s romance with the actress Sybil Vane is composed of the romantic characters she played and the drama of each nightly performance. To see the girl die on stage and then find her backstage alive and beautiful is a supernatural kind of existence that cannot last. The danger of seeing life only through the


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