Abstract Aestheticism in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray

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19th century England was entrenched in the idea that art could be used as not only a method of expression, but also one of social advancement. With this idea at its forefront, art suddenly inundated places where art was never previously found, such as social education and morality. In contrast, Oscar Wilde was a key advocate of an idea known aestheticism, a concept that relied on art simply being art. Oscar Wilde played a major role in Victorian England, having a major influence through his writing. At its peak "the movement had a disdain for any traditional, natural, political, or moral ideals; rather, the importance of nonconformist form and subject matter were fore grounded" (Majer). Wilde suggested that art should hold no purpose in…show more content…
"To the aesthete, there is no distinction between moral and immoral acts, only between those that increase or decrease one’s happiness; yet, Dorian Gray refutes this idea, presenting a strong case for the inherent immorality of purely aesthetic lives" (Duggan). When the reader is first introduced to Dorian Gray, he radiates the young naiveté similar to that of a child, but Lord Henry completely alters Dorian's personality. "The Lord Henry that Wilde projects is, in accordance with Wilde’s expressed philosophy, the ultimate artist" (Shuman). Dorian becomes Lord Henry's canvas, with each word acting as a brushstroke on Dorian's life. "'Yes, he was certainly wonderfully handsome, with his finely curved scarlet lips, his frank blue eyes, his crisp gold hair. There was something in his face that made one trust him at once.'" (2354) Yet instantly Wilde introduces to the reader that Dorian is simply a representation of the true aesthete, personifying the philosophy that beauty is the only motivator in life. "Dorian is both a figure representing the sacred virtues of art and also a hedonist, dedicated to gratifying his senses" (Sanyal). Dorian becomes consumed in a materialistic lifestyle, surrounding himself with lavish objects for the sake of beauty and "ultimate pleasure". Yet, Dorian remains unhappy because he is not able to separate himself from these objects and therefore remains an outsider to society itself.

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