Friday, April 18, 2008

Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.

I first read Oscar Wilde's brief preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray when I was in high school. Over the years, I've returned to it several times to see if I still find it as brilliant as I did then. To see if I still agree with it.

It is. I do.

Here is the whole of it (minus the two lines about the 19th century, removed by me because you don't need them much today although the construct is terrifically clever and you should seek them out):

The artist is the creator of beautiful things.

To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim.

The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography. Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming.

This is a fault.

Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope.

They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.

That is all.

The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium. No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved.

No artist has ethical sympathies.

An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style. No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.

Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art.

Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.

From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician.

From the point of view of feeling, the actor's craft is the type.

All art is at once surface and symbol.

Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.


cb said...

Plus the book gives us fags something cruel and brilliant to say at bars like:

"You just know she's hiding a really ugly picture in an attic somewhere..."

birdoparadise said...

Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.”

A book, like money, is indeed without moral value. It is what one does with it that bears discernment. Words offer information, expression, and interpretation. But what I do as a result of reading those words can be judged moral or immoral.

“It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.”

As you display your canvas of words, you receive back the telling responses that form the portrait of your audience. What a joy it must be to find someone who mirrors your intent or finds fresh viewpoints buried unbeknownst to you; and what disappointment lies in the offering that seems not to reach the heart for whom it was aimed.


Father Tony of the Farmboyz said...

Plenty of joy. No disappointment. You have to take aim at your own heart. Write to yourself, the strongest of critics, and when folks like you weigh in, it is an incredibly delicious bonus. You should do a blog, don't you think?

Birdie said...