Art is seen as a human’s natural form of expression. It has a way of expressing the artist’s beliefs and can be influential to its audience. The passion of revealing art’s meaning and its relevance to an individual is a strong topic that has been expressed by Oscar Wilde. In his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde proposes to his audience that life is influenced by various pieces of art and depicts this through many different techniques and characters in his writing piece. He continues to dive further into the topic as he portrays the influence that art plays in society, how art is able to influence or portray one’s character, and the role of art in determining the morality of one’s life. Through these three arguments, Wilde uses a variety of techniques to prove his statement and shows the audience how our lives are currently influenced by different pieces of art. In the novel, Dorian’s romance with Sybil Vane is the perfect example of the influence art has on society.
Sybil has a strong desire and passion for art and its beauty. In the novel, she is a young actress who adores acting and expressing herself through plays, this passion is what makes her so beautiful in Dorian’s eyes. Sybil states that her life revolves around acting when she states, ” Before I knew you, acting was the one reality of my life. It was only in the theatre that I lived” (Wilde 87). She proclaims in this quote that her love for acting has been the main influence on her life.
She continues to exclaim her love for Dorian over art as she says, “You had brought me something higher, something of which all art is but a reflection. You had made me understand what love really is… You are more to me than all art can ever be” (Wilde 87). Her character expresses how her own life was influenced by art and now Dorian. She is so infatuated with Dorian that she cannot realize the reality of the situation. In this case, Wilde proves to the readers that it is dangerous to view the world simply through the lens of art because it does not reveal the true images of reality. Sibyl is influenced by art in her personal life, just as art influences the lives in society. By using Sibyl’s ignorance and innocence, Wilde is successfully able to show his views on the relationship between art and its influences on society.
A key topic Wilde expresses through this novel is that an artist’s work is influenced by his or her true self. This is shown through another main character, Basil. In chapter 1, Basil is seen explaining to Lord Henry why he does not wish to reveal his painting to an art exhibition. The influence of art on Basil’s life reveals his unique personality through his pieces of work. He states, “My heart shall never be put under their microscope. There is too much of myself in the thing” (Wilde 15). Basil tells Lord Henry that he is too afraid to present his work because his true self remains in it and is afraid the world may criticize it. Though the painting was of Dorian, Basil elaborates on how his art has become a direct reflection to himself.
He seems to adore art very deeply and values its traits of love, beauty and truth. This opposes the reality he faces because Basil believes that Dorian is as amiable and trustworthy just like the beautiful painting. The true problem to Basil is revealing his own self in the painting and exposing his weak nature. His own art piece influences how he interacts with others and displays the innocence Wilde gives to Basil.The influence of the portrait on every character’s morality can be seen through this novel as well. Wilde presents art in many forms and reveals the danger of when it is taken too literally or believed too deeply. The first character that was influenced by this painting is Dorian Gray himself. He sold his soul to have eternal youth to this painting and ended up becoming immoral.
He sees the changes to his painting and fails to recognize that was truly his own soul until he stabs it, eventually killing himself. His immoral self in the painting is shown in the novel when it states,Life had decided that for him- life, and his own infinite curiosity about life. Eternal life, infinite passions, pleasures subtle and secret, wild joys and wilder sins- he was to have all of these things.
The portrait was to bear the burden of his shame: that was all (Wilde 106). All of his sins and immoral acts were displayed in the painting which is why Dorian felt no shame throughout the novel. Wilde uses imagery between the painting and Dorian to reflect art and morality.
While Dorian supposedly remains the same, the painting grows older and differs with each sinn he commits. Dorian’s morals can be seen through the ugly nature of the painting and readers can see how the influence of the painting made him progressively corrupt. This corrupting influence of art is also seen in Lord Henry’s character. Lord Henry saw that this painting was Dorian Gray’s prized possession and used this painting to easily influence Dorian. Wilde portrays his influence as negative when Lord Henry states, “All influence is immoral… To influence a person is to give him one’s own soul” (Wilde 20).
In this quote, Wilde foreshadows the relationship between Dorian Gray and Lord Henry. In addition, as the storyline progresses, the power of art, towards each character becomes evident.Throughout the course of the story, readers can examine the negative influence the painting has on all of the characters. All characters were influenced which proves that art can significantly influence the morality of an individual. As a piece of art itself, the novel invites us to question its form and purpose, while influencing the way we act. Through all these literary devices and expression through his characters, Wilde suggests that the artist’s life reflects off of their own crafts and masterpieces.
He continues to further support that the world is influenced by art and depicts their morals from art as well. Wilde makes use of all the character personalities and quotes in his novel and uses them to help support his arguments. No matter how old or how new the art piece is, Wilde concludes his book and shows readers that no matter how we look at it, our lives will always be influenced by art.