illustrated portrait of English author Oscar Wilde with clouds in the background

Oscar Wilde

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Comment on the presentation of aestheticism in the writings of Oscar Wilde.

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Aestheticism and the presentation of beauty is a massively important theme in many of Wilde's works, and one text in particular that could be used in responding to this question would be The Picture of Dorian Gray, in which beauty in the form of art is contrasted with life through the central symbol of the portrait of Dorian Gray that supernaturally comes to bear the marks of Gray's actions instead of Gray himself. Aestheticism is presented in so many different ways, and clearly the way in which Gray himself becomes an aesthetic object of beauty that experience and the years cannnot marr is one of the dominant themes of the book. Note what Basil says about beauty when he comments on art and one of the problems with it:

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.

Basil clearly argues that one of the problems with art is that too much of the artist's ego is placed into their work, but Dorian Gray takes this one step further, by becoming so attached to his portrait that he literally becomes it, blurring the distinction between art and life. Aestheticism is therefore presented as something that can be intensely dangerous when taken to extremes, as a pursuit of beauty by itself leads to horrendous acts, as it witnessed by Dorian's murder of Basil and also his rejection of Sibyl, who was only beautiful to him through her art. Aestheticism, Wilde argues, if one is not careful, can lead to the rejection of people and acts of evil.

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