Art Explained

While in my English Literature class today, I read a piece by Oscar Wilde. It’s his Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray where he talks briefly about what an artist is, what art is, and the relationship between the two.

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 nineteenth century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.

The nineteenth century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass. 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. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril. It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors. Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital. When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself. We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless.

Basically, what he is saying is this: An artist is one that can see beauty in anything. There is no malevolent or benevolent art, there is only well done or not well done art. An artist does not wish to make a point or be praised; they make art to make art. Art is, upon impact, surface deep. That is where you will find happiness. To look deeper is to find deeper emotion, not all of which is happy. Art should not serve a purpose or fill a slot. It is meant to be a source of beauty in your life like a soft summer breeze or an undisturbed blanket of crisp, white snow.

This is of course only one interpretation in a sea of others but I thought it was a particularly pretty and on-point explanation of what it is to create.

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