Oscar Wilde said that all art is quite useless. Is it? I've always loved the oh-so-quotable Oscar, but he did love to rattle mainstream sensibilities and narrow-minded conformity. He must have been outrageously shocking to 19th century London society. He was clearly a genius, as he himself declared. But what was he getting at? What is the point of The Arts? Does it have a use. Should it have? Can it really be useless?

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As a radical Wildean I can see that he must have said these words back in the aesthetic period of his career where he followed the L'Art Pour L'art movement which (if Im not mistaken) was a Pater thing. At that time, Wilde was just starting to sow his artistic oats and tried to place himself within a role in the movement. In time, you can see how he changes this vision and comprises it with a bit more spirituality and gumption. During his "married period" he lost that idealistic view *and was bored to death as a result* and then moved on to weirder and more dangerous pursuits as his trial would show. Yet, I think that "all art is quite useless" as nothing to do with Wilde's own thought, and much more to do with his passive-aggressive "push-button" attempt to awaken society. Also, I think he said that just to be sarcastic. He was the Victorian "Colbert"...for sure, I think so.

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Useless beauty is what art gives to the human race.  Thank goodness we have such "useless" treasures among all the "usefull" things that have most of our time and attention these days.  The universe appears to exel in useless, kitschy things like sunsets and rainbows. Life would be a very boring experience without such useless beauty.  Read books on the Philosophy of Aesthetics. I recommend "Uncontrollable Beauty, Toward a New Aesthetics", Edited by Bill Beckley with David Shapiro, 1998, which is an anthology of essays on beauty in these post-modern times.

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Considering that Wilde himself was an artist--as all writers are--it's rather hypocritical of him to have said this. What was the context in which he said this? Wilde was very cynical and loved irony. He may not have meant to be taken literally.

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Taking a purely personal approach to this question, I totally disagree with Wilde -- as I suspect he did too.

I have always lived a busy and stressful life, and have accomplished alot of conventional good things.  However, some of the most important moments of my life have been when I am creating art.  Fashioning clay into a human shape, making a beautiful book with fabulous paper and outlandish forms, capturing the expression of a face with a few quick strokes of the pencil.  Art has been incredibly useful to me, bringing me closer to the deeper me and what it's all about.

Another example.  Will.i.am's video about Obama moved SO many people.  How could anyone say it wasn't useful?

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All art has a purpose...it represents the inner workings of the mind of the artist at the time. Take Picasso's "blue period" and the different moods of Dali.  The art itself may only serve to decorate--it may not have a practical purpose--but it does mark a time period by the responses, moods, and current events which influenced/stimulated/evoked the art in the first place. 

I love Oscar Wilde, also.  He is very witty and would have been great fun at a dinner party.  He is the epitome of playing Devil's Advocate.  The Picture of Dorian Gray is a great example...he contradicts himself all throughout just to get the goat of his audience.  He enjoyed stirring the pot to see the reactions he would get...seems like everything was a study of the human psyche.  I'm sure he didn't mean his "art is useless" comment literally.  If so, he (as a very talented artist/dramatist/novelist)spent an awful lot of time creating tons of useless stuff.

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What do we have of the past that is tangible BUT the artistic?  The writings, the architecture, the paintings and sculptures, the literature of a time are the recordings of the human experience.  With only the history books, we would be limited to certain eras, and the recordings would be inaccurate since the writing of history is so often slanted or changed by the powers existant at the time period.

Oscar Wilde may have been facetitious when he said that art is worthless.  For, art is often not economically useful; it cannot always pay one's bills.  However, Wilde surely knew how the fine arts are the nourishment for the soul and the outpourings and expression of the human experience that is so necessary to us all.

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