Walter Pater is a pioneering author on the principles of aestheticism, and his influential and popular work, The Renaissance (1963), which advanced the impression that art should be viewed as an end, and advocates hedonism as the rightful path to life. In the preface to the Renaissance, it is clear that Pater (1873, viii) articulates that in defining what beauty is, in a concrete manner is usually the aim of the aesthetics true student. Pater’s ideal art critic need to be restrained from moral judgments or comparison from other works, and thus, people should ask themselves of what art produces in an individual, and whether one derives pleasure from it, the extent of the pleasure and how it modifies its presence and its influence (Pater, 1873: viii). For this reason, Pater shifts the criticism of art from an object of analysis to the recipient’s emotional response. For this reason, Pater emphasized on the aesthetic and emotional impact of art and does not consider morality.
However, looking at Dorian’s portrait, at first, it produces pleasure, but when he commits wrongdoings, the portrait significantly changes, showing his ugliness of his soul. As such, upon changing, he does not derive pleasure, which as Pater points out, should. As such, Pater contradicts Wilde’s view of art. According to Pater, it should derive pleasure, but this is not the case in Wilde’s novel, as the portrait is ugly. However, upon his death, the pleasure is derived once the portrait’s beauty is restored. As such, both Pater and Wilde advocate the use of art to promote beauty. Another contradiction of Wilde’s view that leading a hedonistic way of life usually brings misfortune in one’s life, Pater advocates for it, by holding that people should always keep the flame burning, have ecstasy, and maintain success in life and also points out that our failures to maintain an aesthetic life emanates from failure to develop habits , which as he asserts, is relative to the stereotypes held (Pater, 1873: 236-237). For this reason, Pater’s work in the Renaissance is important in the formation of aesthetic movement in Britain, and was an important influence on other writers, such as Oscar Wilde.
Contradicting Oscar Wilde’s Opinion on Art and Morality
In addition, in Oscar Wilde’s book, “The Critic as an Artist,” it is clearly articulated that beauty is the intellectual and moral order of the Kosmos. However, in “The Picture of Dorian Gray” this is different because, beauty, which is encompassed by Dorian’s handsomeness, does not yield moral and intellectual order. Instead, it is clear that beauty can be a hindrance of realism and idealism. For instance, Dorian on the outside appeared beautiful but this is not reflected in his internal self, which is not beautiful. In essence, Dorian in the novel proved that not all beauty is based on intellect and morals because his inner self, as depicted by the portrait was disturbing, which is after he committed various crimes including murder. As such, beauty in the novel is highly criticized for not having been based on morality.
On the other hand, Arnold (1970) criticism must take where region and politics are concerned and should be apt in studying and praising elements that are meant for the fullness of spiritual perfection, even though in some instances, hey belong to a power that is certainly maleficent in the practical sphere. In addition, literature criticism must discern spiritual illusion of powers and their shortcomings, which in the practical sphere are beneficent. Looking into Dorian, it is clear that his spiritual perfection was long compromised after adopting an aesthetic viewpoint about life. As such, his morals were negatively affected. His soul was not pure anymore and he committed crimes that in the end led to his demise, which further proves the assertion that the wages of sins are death.
In conclusion, it can be derived that from the novel, Dorian undergoes various transformations, from innocence to utmost cruelty, which sees him murder his friend Basil, and contributes to the death of Sybil, Campbell, and James. It is for this reason that it can be derived that unlike Lord Henry who is predominantly static, Dorian undergoes transformation after adopting Henry’s hedonistic viewpoints and appreciates aestheticism. However, he does this without moral obligation, and finally, he commits suicide by attempting to eliminate the only evidence that would connect him to his immoral nature, which was encompassed in the portrait. Instead of destroying the portrait, he ends up killing himself, which emanates from his wrongdoings. Therefore, through the novel, Dorian develops as a character from an innocent and one who upholds morals and changes to an individual whose morals are eroded due to leading an aesthetic life, which matures to death, and thus, in the novel, mortality achieves its purpose against the value of art and aestheticism.
Arnold, Matthew. “The function of criticism at the present time.” Lectures and Essays in Criticism 3 (1970): 258-85.
Duggan, Patrick. The Conflict between Aestheticism and Morality in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. 2009. Web. 11 Feb, 2016
Livesey, Ruth. Aestheticism. Oxford Index. 2011. Web. 11 Feb, 2016
Pater, Walter. Studies in the History of the Renaissance. Macmillan and Company, 1873. Print
Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. New York, New York : Penguin Group, 1985. Print.
Wilde, Oscar, The Critic as the Artist in Complete works of Oscar Wilde fifth edition, ed. Merlin Holland London: Harpercollins Publishers, 2003
Wilde, Oscar. Selections Volume One. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Moscow Progress Publishers. 1979. Print.