Tag Archives: Oscar Wilde

Art Imitates Life

“Personal experience is a most vicious and limited circle. All that I desire to point out is the general principle that Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life, and I feel sure that if you think seriously about it you will find that it is true. Life holds the mirror up to Art, and either reproduces some strange type imagined by painter or sculptor, or realizes in fact what has been dreamed in fiction. Scientifically speaking, the basis of life— the energy of life, as Aristotle would call it—is simply the desire for expression, and Art is always presenting various forms through which this expression can be attained. Life seizes on them and uses them, even if they be to her own hurt. Young men have committed suicide because Rolla did so, have died by their own hand because by his own hand Werther died. Think of what we owe to the imitation of Christ, of what we owe to the imitation of Cæsar.”

Wilde, Oscar. Intentions: The Decay of Lying. New York: Brentano’s, 1905. 39-40. eBook.

I thought this was so interesting because I never looked at it from the perspective of life imitating art. I always considered art to be a reflection of what was happening in the individual’s life and the world around them. I don’t necessarily fully agree with what he’s saying but after having looked at the topic from this perspective, I believe that they may influence each other rather than one controlling the other. I do believe that a fundamental basis of life is the desire for expression and so in that way, art if life. But I also think that it depends on the individual. Some people do believe that art if life as well as a reflection and influencer and so they may agree that art is life. However there are also people who do not believe that art has that big of an impact on their lives.

Fictional Characters

“The only real people are the people who never existed, and if a novelist is base enough to go to life for his personages he should at least pretend that they are creations, and not boast of them as copies.  The justification of a character in a novel is not that other persons are what they are, but that the author is what he is.  Otherwise the novel is not a work of art.”

-from page 14 of The Decay of Lying by Oscar Wilde, edition published in 1905 by Brentano’s in New York.  Retrieved from digital copy at: https://archive.org/details/intentionsdecayo00wild

I think it’s impossible for a fictional character to truly be a “copy”, even when inspired by a real person.  The best it can be is a representation of how the author imagines that person, or a lie.  The character is still a person who never existed.

The Only Beautiful Things

“The only beautiful things, as somebody once said, are the things that do not concern us. As long as a thing is useful or necessary to us, or affect us in any way, either for pain or for pleasure, or appeals strongly to our sympathies, or is a vital part of the environment in which we live, it is outside the proper sphere of art. To art’s subject-matter we should be more or less indifferent. We should, at any rate, have no preference, no prejudices, no partisan feeling of any kind.”

Wilde, Oscar. “The Decay of Lying.” In Intentions. New York: Brentano’s, 1905. Page 5-6.

Through the character of Vivian, Wilde argues that the only things that should be considered beautiful, are things that we feel impartial to. This was interesting because one would usually argue the complete opposite – that the only beautiful things are the things that do concern us.

Imagination and Lying

“The moment Art surrenders it’s imaginative medium, it surrenders everything.  As a method Realism is a complete failure, and the two things that every artist should avoid are modern it of form and modernity of subjectmatter.  To us, who live in the nineteenth century, any century is a suitable subject for art except our own.  The only beautiful things are the things that do not concern us.”

Wilde, Oscar. “The Decay of Lying.” archive.org/stream/intentionsdecayo00wild. April 2008. September 2014.

This passage stuck out because, throughout much of this passage, I found Vivian annoying until the connection is made that imagination and lying are synonymous.  Art is a product of human imagination and it takes some truth bending to accomplish that.

Nature’s perfection through Art

“People tell us that Art makes us love Nature more than we loved her before; that it reveals her secrets to us; and that after a careful study of Corot and Constable we see things in her that had escaped our observation. My own experience is that the more we study Art, the less we care for Nature. What Art really reveals to us is Nature’s lack of design, her curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished condition… It is fortunate for us, however, that Nature is so imperfect, as otherwise we should have had no art at all. Art is our spirited protest, our gallant attempt to teach Nature her proper place… It resides in the imagination, or fancy, or cultivated blindness of the man who looks at her”

Oscar Wilde The Decay of Lying in Intentions. , London, Methuen & Co. (1913) page 3-4.

Vivian reveals an interesting view of Art vs. Nature. People normally argue that Nature reveals its beauty to inspire art; however, Vivian argues that Art covers Nature’s imperfection and creates beauty through imagination. Nature is perfected through the inspiration of vivid imagination creating Art.