Oscar Wilde Questions and Answers

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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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M.P. Ossa, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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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loveart eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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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linda-allen eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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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cburr eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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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amy-lepore eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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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mjay25 | Student

Despite Wilde's stance that 'all art is quite useless' and his strong support of the Aesthetic movement, instrumentalism can be found within Wilde's works and proves that it is very rare that art can be purely aesthetic with no implicit/explicit message. Even if supports of aestheticism claim they write according to the dictums of the movement, more than likely the subs-conscious workings of the mind and thoughts, criticisms will find their way into a text.


I definitely disagree with Wilde that 'all art is quite useless'. Of course he doesn't mean useless in a negative sense, but that it shouldn't do anything. Most writers whether intentionally or not will convey messages and meanings.

angelnnn | Student

I think I'm right to believe that Oscar Wilde did not literally mean are is useless but instead he intended his comment as praise. What he is outlining actually suggests that art is of a higher value than anything that is useful and that we as humans need the useless things more than that useful things in life.

kittykars | Student

Posters 4,5,6,and 7: I think that you could possibly be taking this phrase far too literally. What Wilde meant by this phrase was that Art should be taken as it is on face value, unless you are seeking to find yourself, which is dangerous.

In his preface to A Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde states:

'Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril. It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.'

Therefore, Mr Wilde was suggesting that Art should be viewed only as what it is; that is 'Art'. Anything else that one sees in Art is merely their own perception of what they see and this is drawn from ones own mind and subconscious. Therefore Art is 'quite useless' as it serves no purpose but to view it as it is, because anything that one views within Art beyond the painted surface is only what we know (or don't necessarily want to know) within our own minds about ourselves.

Oscar Wilde = Genius!

sanjiwan | Student

  This topic is very complicated and difficult to understand.But what we should not forget is that he himself  was a human being having the right to express his personal view on any topic he disliked .Oscar might have rattled mainstream sensibilities with his remarks but there is no way of considering it to be true.Of course , he was great writer ,but as a human being ,he  was not flawless.Besides G.B Shaw had also been very rude to his friends,using irony in the conversation.He once said,``I do not understand this bloody criket;why one throws a ball and another hits it back;and for nothing ,one million shouts louder and louder``.

forrestk | Student

Art is absolutely useful in today's society. It isn't limited to art of a specific form either: any music, painting, literature, whatever format you can imagine: contributes to our society and how it has grown over time.

Art allows the creative side of us to come out. Talented artists of any kind are truly gifted. In addition, art classes are still very popular among students of all ages, including college students. I doubt that you could find a different genre or job that requires as much creativity as art does.

prasadpegataraju | Student

Oscar Wilde is a reknowned dramtist WILDE was infuenced bythe aesthetic movement with its slogan 'art for art's sake,then started by John Ruskin Walter Pater and others.The most notable effect of the aesthetic cult on him was his disregard for conventioal morality

he years 1892-1895 proved to be crucial in his career,Lady widermere's fan,solome A woman of no importance, An ideal husb and etc are some of his best creations. Importance of being Earnest. is one of the best plays of wilde He was sentenced to two years of imprisonment for his homosexual exploits and acid tongue. He might have  made statements you quoted in his desperation.  He was an honest creator of art.He would not have created such great forms of art without believing in its usefulness.