Art In Oscar Wilde's The Decay Of Lying

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Wilde’s Concept of Art
Along with “The Critic as Artist”, “The Decay of Lying” was included in the anthology “Intentions” in 1891, the year in which “Dorian Gray” was republished as a full-length novel. Both essays expound and defend Wilde’s aesthetic doctrines and both essays take the form of conversational dialogues . In “The Decay of Lying”, Wilde studies the relationship between art, life and nature. From the outset, Vivian, one of Wilde’s fictional characters, denounces nature as “crude”, “monotonous”, “imperfect” and “lacking in design” (Wilde 1071). Life is no less at fault. Whenever she intrudes upon art, she destroys her terribly (ibid.: 1078). Art, by contrast, is always ahead of life and nature moulding them to serve her creative
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Nevertheless, nature’s inferiority to art is again emphasised. The voluptuous effects and sensations of nature and the outdoors, which Vivian experiences, are described poetically echoing Tennyson and Blake (Shewan 96; Wilde 1092). For a brief and blissful moment, art passionately and beautifully recreates life and nature and inspires fresh thought, and so it must be enjoyed without prejudice and preferred to “dull” life and, what Cohen calls, life’s moral claims (Cohen 149) . Although Wilde implies the subordination of life to art and ethics to aesthetics, he also implicitly acknowledges their affiliation, which is the subject of the following section.

Ethics as Aesthetics and Criticism as Creation
“The sphere of Art and the sphere of Ethics are absolutely separate”, Gilbert tells Ernest, his foil, in “The Critic as Artist” (Wilde 1145). It is a conviction that Wilde had already shared when he answered to criticisms from the St. James’s Gazette (Mason 8). Despite the formal stipulation that the application of ethical standards to the artistic enterprise must be rejected, Wilde makes his ethics an integral component of his aesthetics: Aesthetics are higher than ethics. They belong to a more spiritual sphere. To discern
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Dorian, the immoral aesthete; Basil, the moral artist; Lord Henry, the amoral critic. Dorian, who in the pursuit of physical sensations aestheticizes every aspect of his life and simultaneously thinks he can act with impunity, keeps neglecting “the visible emblem of conscience”, the portrait (Wilde 75). Following the primrose path, he finds, is self-destructive, not self-promoting. Basil and Lord Henry, both artists in their own right, paint and write Dorian. One of them has good intentions. The other does not. In the end, all three have committed minor and major offences against the rules and must pay for their violations . Two of them will be sentenced to death, the third to an unfulfilling existence in which nothing is to be
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