A year of exploring Oscar Wilde


Oscar Wilde has always been my favourite classic author. This year I have re-read The Picture of Dorian Gray, read two collections of wit and wisdom and seen a performance of The Importance of Being Earnest.

Wilde has such a poetic and elegant style to his writing which makes you think about what he’s talking about in a deep and critical manner. One of my favourite quotes is by Oscar Wilde.


“Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.”

― Oscar Wilde

He has such interesting perspectives on women, marriage, love, politics, art, music and I love everything he writes. I love to surround myself with his work to keep me thinking critically about my own. If I’m constantly in a mindset of critical analysis when it comes to my work, then I can help myself to improve what I do.

Re-reading The Picture of Dorian Gray was a really interesting experience for me. The first time I read it, I was quite young. I understood the meaning and language, but I didn’t appreciate it as much as I do after my second reading.

I have a very different perspective on this book now that I have experienced more of life. Before, the book seemed like a cautionary tale of how your vices and vanity can be your downfall that was meant to shock the reader into expelling their corruption.

Upon reading it a second time, I still believe that it is a tale of how your vices and vanity can be your downfall, however I don’t think it was mean as a method of curing readers on their corruption. Instead I think it holds a mirror to the reader, their sins, corruption, secret desires. It touches on humanity’s desperation to preserve youth and beauty, to be innocent, beautiful and happy.

The preface is a short but interesting commentary on art, what it means to be an artist, artists’ place in society and how art should be viewed. The first time I read it, I had no intention of going into art education. Obviously now I have gone into art education, the subject of the preface is a whole lot more relevant to me, my art and my practice.

Here is one of the few places I disagree with what Wilde is saying. I do believe that something can be art if it is useful. In the century and a bit since Wilde wrote this preface, art has evolved to be a much more multifaceted thing. There are now forms of art that are functional and, being on a multidisciplinary course, I see that more than ever in the other students at Leeds College of Art.

I think many of his views ring true of fine art and classical art, such as “Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex and vital”, however, as a visual communicator, my aim in the creation of my work is to communicate a specific idea or theme. Diversity of opinion, whilst being exceedingly important for feedback, could be seen as a flaw in the effectiveness of my communication of said idea.

Applying this book to my life since my first reading, Dorian’s descent into debauchery is so much more believable. There are people in your life who will corrupt you and you will end up making a few bad choices. This book shows us that these bad choices can lead somewhere very dark if we do not choose to be better and atone for our mistakes.

Dorian never makes the choice to be better and is constantly blaming other people for his mistakes and misfortune. He blames everyone else for the problems they have, even when they’re a product of his actions. He never blames himself for his own problems, even when they’re a product of his actions.

This book chronicles a man who cannot see fault in his character, only his face, drown himself in his own vanity and lack of identity, wreaking havoc on the world around him.

I feel as though I am more equipped to take on the world now that I have read this book and I shall grow more as a person because of it. The Picture of Dorian Gray has taught me to be critical of my work and my actions, take responsibility for my mistakes and not rely on excuses to get myself out of things.

Reading some of Wilde’s greatest quotes, bound up in one book, made for a fascinating read. When spread out across many pieces of literature, many of Wilde’s greatest quotes can often be lost within the texts.

I looked at one of the quotes from the books I had in closer detail to form my opinion on iy, its truth and relevance in today’s society, more than a century after it was written.

“Whenever people agree with me, I always feel I must be wrong”
– Oscar Wilde, The Quotable Oscar Wilde

This one particularly rings true for me, however only in terms of when I say something is ‘perfect’. I am constantly critical of my work and myself so if I said either was perfect and someone agreed, I wouldn’t trust their opinion. No piece of work I make is perfect. No person is perfect. Given infinite time and a wide variety of opinion from every single person who has ever lived and will live in this time, at every point of their lives, accepting these opinions and finding a way to please everyone, you could achieve perfection. This is, of course, impossible.

I constantly rely on conflicting opinions and criticism to form my own opinions and to grow as a person. If everyone agreed with me all the time then I couldn’t grow or improve as a person or an artist.

When I saw The Importance of Being Ernest, I found myself watching the audience just as much as I was watching the play. It was really interesting to see how people reacted to the humour in the play.

Oscar Wilde said that he wrote the importance of being Ernest for those with a sarcastic and cynical sense of humour. Although I really enjoyed the performance, I don’t think the actors portrayed it this way. The exaggerated the humour and cut back the serious cynicism  which isn’t something I liked.

The audience however loved it and there was constant laughter and applause through all three acts of the play.

Although I didn’t begin the year thinking I was going to read a lot of Oscar Wilde, I’m really glad that I did. I think I will continue into summer by reading more of his works and reviewing them.


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