Oscar Wilde questions

Posted by Smokey Stover on March 18, 2005

In Reply to: Oscar Wilde questions posted by Lewis on March 17, 2005

: : I was wondering about the specific meaning of two words which Oscar Wilde uses in his Preface to "The picture of Dorian Gray". One is "morbid", in the sentence: "No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything."

: : The other is "all" in sentences like: "All art is at once surface and symbol" or "All art is quite useless". Do you think he means "all arts are." (every art is.) or perhaps ("art is always.")?

: : Thanks a lot!

: : Ruth

: "morbid" - gloomy, obsessed with death - a study of painting and literature would suggest that death is a very popular topic - naturally sex and death are fundamental to human thought/motivation. Oscar may either have been ironic or he is suggesting that art must include death or otherwise it would be excluding an important part of the human psyche, but that by doing so it is not obsessive about it.

: take yer pick.

: L

"All art is at once surface and symbol" and "All art is quite useless." Ruth, neither of your suggestions, "Art is always . .." and "All arts ...," was the form used because they add an extraneous element and a distraction from Wilde's point. As regards "all arts," there is always a technical element in an art, but what Wilde is talking about is the artistic element, the universal quality among arts. The distinction, if you can call it that, is seen in other languages as well. André Gide wrote, "Tout l'art, c'est l'exaggération." "Always" is also a distraction. He is talking about what art is, not measuring its life. You can't make an aphorism out of endless qualifications, and aphorisms were Wilde's strong suit. He likes to have the veneer of a sneer, and in throwing off his aphorisms with seeming lack of effort, he likes to sound casual and indifferent, as though there were a big yawn between aphorisms. But this pose conceals an insightful mind to go with his sense of the "bon mot." As for the actual validity of the two dicta cited, both are essentially true, but emphasize different facets of the nature of art (as does the mot of André Gide, who had more than his aphorisms in common with Wilde). SS