The Issue of Autobiographical Elements in Dorian Gray

One of the most interesting aspects of The Picture of Dorian Gray is the artistic perspective of Basil Hallward. The painter states that an “artist should create beautiful things, but should put nothing of his own life into them” (25). This passage reminds me of the decadent movement’s belief in the creation of art for art sake (in other words: for the sake of beauty), which also connects to the idea about the importance of art’s impression on the viewer. This impressionistic mindset purports that the artist should not try to infuse his or her work with meaning because all meaning is created from each individual’s unique reaction to art. In this instance, treating art “as a form of autobiography” would conflict with this decadent ideal by making art less about the viewer and more about the artist (25). This sentiment is echoed in the Preface as Wilde writes, “To reveal art and conceal is the artist is art’s aim” (17).  This mantra is interesting in connection to Wilde’s own life because many of Wilde’s autobiographical details (i.e., interest in Catholicism, sexuality) would have been controversial in traditional British society and might have caused problems for him if more traditional readers were to find these themes in his work. However, despite this negative view of autobiographical influences on art, The Picture of Dorian Gray also seems to advocate for this practice. Basil seems to contradict his aforementioned views as he explains that “every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist” (21). As the word “feeling” connotes passion and extreme effort (qualities that are essential for masterful art), Basil may be implying that all truly great paintings reveal something about their creator. This phenomenon is also reflected in the Preface as Wilde also writes, “The highest, as the lowest, form of criticism is a mode of autobiography” (17). Since Wilde has previously described criticism as an art itself, this mantra may reveal how the “highest art” skillfully is skillfully injected with autobiographical details while the “lowest” art may rely too heavily on this practice. With the context of the negative contradictory view of autobiographical influences in mind, great art might also have to try to conceal its details about its creator in order to ensure that the reader is not overly distracted away from appreciating the formal impressionistic beauty of the work.    

One thought on “The Issue of Autobiographical Elements in Dorian Gray”

  1. Though this is a bit removed from your argument, I like your attention to the conflict of Basil’s words. It seems like Wilde is intentionally contradicting himself here. One thing I have noticed is that especially in Dorian Gray, Wilde says one thing (or has his character say something) that entirely contradicts the content of their actions. Words are often empty in this universe.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *