The Picture Of Dorian Gray Aestheticism Analysis

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“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.” This is a stark claim made by Oscar Wilde in the preface to his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (3). Along with the rest of Wilde’s preface, this sentence rebukes literary realism in favor of aestheticism. This is unsurprising to anyone who is familiar with the playwright’s other plays and lectures; Wilde was an avid opponent of realism and a firm believer in the concept of “art for art’s sake.” Critic Elizabeth Prettejohn claims that aestheticism includes a focus on the visual elements of a piece of art. Oscar Wilde had previously met the…show more content…
Before exploring Wilde’s preface, it is vital to explore the definitions of “aestheticism” and “realism” as Wilde would have understood them. Elizabeth Prettejohn defines aestheticism as a direct descendant of Pre-Raphaelitism in which the visual arts take center stage. These “visual arts” include paintings and sculptures, but can also be found in nature. Due to the ambiguity of its subjects, aestheticism does not have one true definition, but is commonly described as the movement that preceded Pre-Raphaelitism. While Pre-Raphaelites were concerned with the relationship between nature and reality, aestheticism is concerned with differentiating art from the real (Prettejohn 1-2). According to various lectures that Wilde had given on aestheticism throughout his lifetime, it is said that Wilde used the term “aestheticism” as a catch-all term for treating all forms of art, natural or man-made, as beautiful for their own sake. (Prettejohn 4). In contrast to aestheticism, realism is defined by author George Eliot as “the doctrine that all truth and beauty are to be attained by a humble and faithful study of nature, and not by substituting vague forms, bred by imagination on the mists of feeling, in place of definite, substantial reality.” Eliot claims that realism uses modesty to impose the modern, real world into art (Mullan 1). In the preface of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde expresses his distaste of realists (“Those who find ugly
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