What role does art play in The Picture of Dorian Gray? What are each of the three main characters’ attitudes towards art? How do they think art functions in society? The role of art in The Picture of Dorian Gray is that of romance. It brings a romantic sensation into an otherwise dark tale about a young man, Dorian Gray. His portrait was painted so perfectly, it mesmerized him into a love hate relationship not only with himself, but with the artist, Basil Hallward and with his closest friend, Lord Henry Wotton.
Although these men were affected by art in different ways, each romanticized about it, essentially about Dorian Gray. Dorian Gray was a young man. He was found to be the most attractive young man around by males and females alike. Everyone within his social circle wanted to be enchanted by this Prince Charming. Although the person most enchanted by him, was Dorian himself. He was only a young man with good looks until he met the artist, Basil Hallward. He became a young man with an attitude, after he sat for the artist. A portrait painting like no other came from that sitting.
It introduced a new type of arrogance to the young man. During the time he sat for Basil, he was introduced to Lord Henry Wotton. Lord Henry was compelled to induce this new arrogant behavior. The three men had a triangle of romance with the new piece of art right in the middle. Dorian relied on that painting. It kept him young, literally. The more Dorian observed himself within the painting, the more power it had over him. He viewed this art, this magical piece, as his lifeline. The painting taking away all the pain, sorrow, blood and age that life would normally introduce to a man.
He remained perfect and the painting was forever flawed. With this new found perfection, he expected perfection from all except Henry. Henry had a hold on Dorian. He influenced him as much as the art did. It was because Henry had a different view on how one should live, “Because to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of someone else’s music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him.
The aim of life is self-development. To realize one’s nature perfectly—that is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty that one owes to one’s self. Of course they are charitable. They feed the hungry, and clothe the beggar. But their own souls starve, and are naked. Courage has gone out of our race. Perhaps we never really had it. The terror of society, which is the basis of morals, the terror of God, which is the secret of religion—these are the two things that govern us.
And yet, I believe that if one man were to live out his life fully and completely, were to give form to every feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every dream—I believe that the world would gain such a fresh impulse of joy that we would forget all the maladies of medi? valism, and return to the Hellenic ideal—to something finer, richer, than the Hellenic ideal, it may be. But the bravest man amongst us is afraid of himself. The mutilation of the savage has its tragic survival in the self-denial that mars our lives. We are punished for our refusals. Every impulse that we strive to strangle broods in the mind, and poisons us.
The body sins once, and has done with its sin, for action is a mode of purification. Nothing remains then but the recollection of a pleasure, or the luxury of a regret. The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful. It has been said that the great events of the world take place in the brain. It is in the brain, and the brain only, that the great sins of the world take place also. You, Mr.
Gray, you yourself, with your rose-red youth and your rose-white boyhood, you have had passions that have made you afraid, thoughts that have filled you with terror, day-dreams and sleeping dreams whose mere memory might stain your cheek with shame——” (Wilde). The painting was a direct reflection of Basil’s adoration for Dorian and it was pure perfection. “The painter shuddered in spite of himself. “Dorian, if I told you, you might like me less than you do, and you would certainly laugh at me. I could not bear your doing either of those two things. If you wish me never to look at your picture again, I am content.
I have always you to look at. If you wish the best work I have ever done to be hidden from the world, I am satisfied. Your friendship is dearer to me than any fame or reputation. Even now I cannot help feeling that it is a mistake to think that the passion one feels in creation is ever really shown in the work one creates. Art is always more abstract than we fancy. Form and colour tell us of form and colour—that is all. It often seems to me that art conceals the artist far more completely than it ever reveals him. And so when I got this offer from Paris I determined to make your portrait the principal thing in my exhibition.
It never occurred to me that you would refuse. I see now that you were right. The picture cannot be shown. You must not be angry with me, Dorian, for what I have told you. As I said to Harry, once, you are made to be worshipped” (Wilde). It is as if Basil was torn between life and art, “We take pleasure in the beauty of a statue, shall not then the living fill us with delight? ” This near mistranslation — which, in fact, via quotation in Edith Hamilton’s The Greek Way to Western Civilization, has made its way into mainstream thought — actually pinpoints the center of Basil’s struggle.
He cannot make up his mind as to whether he should experience life, being caught up as he is in the perfected world of art” (Alley). Henry took it upon himself to encourage the artist but he was at a point in his life when this painting was too personal to display. “It is your best work, Basil, the best thing you have ever done,” (Wilde) said Lord Henry. “You must certainly send it next year to the Grosvenor. The Academy is too large and too vulgar.
Whenever I have gone there, there have been either so many people that I have not been able to see the pictures, which was dreadful, or so many pictures that I have not been able to see the people, which was worse. The Grosvenor is really the only place” (Wilde). Basil did not agree and denied Henry’s idea. “Not send it anywhere? My dear fellow, why? Have you any reason? What odd chaps you painters are! You do anything in the world to gain a reputation. As soon as you have one, you seem to want to throw it away. It is silly of you, for there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
A portrait like this would set you far above all the young men in England, and make the old men quite jealous, if old men are ever capable of any emotion” (Wilde) was Henry’s reply. I can tell Henry views art as a way to get ahead in society, provided you have the skills, which Basil did. The painter did not agree with the selling your soul method of being accepted. He truly loved his subject and that love was to be private. It was privately displayed on a canvas, hidden in Dorian’s home. That one piece of art influenced Dorian to be as free and powerful as Henry wanted him to be and Henry loved having a protege.
Henry was interested in exploiting Dorian’s willingness and Basil’s privacy. Basil told him, “The story is simply this. Two months ago I went to a crush at Lady Brandon’s. You know we poor artists have to show ourselves in society from time to time, just to remind the public that we are not savages. With an evening coat and a white tie, as you told me once, anybody, even a stockbroker, can gain a reputation for being civilized. Well, after I had been in the room about ten minutes, talking to huge over-dressed dowagers and tedious Academicians, I suddenly became conscious that someone was looking at me.
I turned halfway round, and saw Dorian Gray for the first time. When our eyes met, I felt that I was growing pale. A curious sensation of terror came over me. I knew that I had come face to face with someone whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if I allowed it to do so, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole soul, my very art itself. I did not want any external influence in my life. You know yourself, Harry, how independent I am by nature. I have always been my own master; had at least always been so, till I met Dorian Gray. Then—— but I don’t know how to explain it to you.
Something seemed to tell me that I was on the verge of a terrible crisis in my life. I had a strange feeling that Fate had in store for me exquisite joys and exquisite sorrows. I grew afraid, and turned to quit the room. It was not conscience that made me do so; it was a sort of cowardice. I take no credit to myself for trying to escape” (Wilde). The art of Dorian Gray did absorb him but differently than it was absorbing Dorian. Hallward had conflict with his art and society, “An artist should create beautiful things, but should put nothing of his own life into them.
We live in an age when men treat art as if it were meant to be a form of autobiography. We have lost the abstract sense of beauty. Someday I will show the world what it is; and for that reason the world shall never see my portrait of Dorian Gray” (Wilde). But once it was painted, he would never see that painting ever again. Between Henry’s influence and that perfect piece of art, Dorian developed a sense of power; it had him thinking all art should be as perfect as his. When he laid judgment it was always in comparison to his perfection. If he were to be exposed to it, it had better be the best. He fell for a young lady artist, Sibyl Vane. The form, face, and color that attract Sibyl Vane signify the wealth, status, and power of Dorian and other men of his class” (Dellamora). He was her dream man and he considered her to be the best stage actress ever.
Until one unfortunate night when his lover’s acting didn’t meet his standards. He called the whole thing off, “I was brutal, Harry—perfectly brutal. But it is all right now. I am not sorry for anything that has happened. It has taught me to know myself better” (Wilde). “Ah, Dorian, I am so glad you take it in that way! I was afraid I would find you plunged in remorse, and tearing that nice curly hair of yours” (Wilde). I have got through all that, I am perfectly happy now” (Wilde). “A very charming artistic basis for ethics, Dorian! I congratulate you on it” (Wilde). Dorian learned a lesson from Sibyl. His ridiculous behavior towards her drove her to suicide. “His unreal and selfish love would yield to some higher influence, would be transformed into some nobler passion, and the portrait that Basil Hallward had painted of him would be a guide to him through life, would be to him what holiness is to some, and conscience to others, and the fear of God to us all.
There were opiates for remorse, drugs that could lull the moral sense to sleep. But here was a visible symbol of the degradation of sin. Here was an ever-present sign of the ruin men brought upon their souls” (Wilde). Ultimately the art drove Basil and Dorian to their deaths and Henry to a lonely life trying to sell others souls for his own pleasure. “Romantic Art begins with its climax” (Wilde). And so it ends with one as well.