Throughout Dorian Gray, I found the presentation of art to be incredibly interesting. Basil and Harry seem to fight over Dorian as opposing artistic forces. On a larger scale, Basil and Harry’s work and its relationship to Dorian may reflect Wilde’s larger body of work.
For example, Basil’s relationship with Dorian emphasizes meaning. Basil worships Dorian’s appearance and recreates his image in his artwork. Against his better judgment, Basil reveals himself completely in his work. Just by looking at his painting, his feelings towards Dorian are apparent. One can look through the exterior to find depth without trying. Basil may represent one aspect of Wilde’s creative process and philosophy, which yearns for meaning.
Meanwhile, Harry’s influence on Dorian shows a conflicting artistic urge. Harry’s quick quips are impressive on the exterior but contain nothing of value. He insists that the book he gives Dorian is nothing but a well-written book, with no true meaning or message. The artist puts nothing beyond the surface, yet Dorian takes Harry’s remarks and the book he recommends incredibly seriously. After Harry gives Dorian the book, Dorian obsesses over it, buying copies in different colors to suit his mood. He views the work as predicting his own life and often accuses Harry of poisoning him.
This difference between Basil’s style of providing art and Harry’s style of providing art resembles the range of Wilde’s work. When we talked about Wilde’s Happy Prince tales as outliers in Wilde’s work, we considered that they may not mean anything at all. Like Dorian’s reaction to Harry’s influence, those trying to find meaning in these stories may be digging for something nonexistent and providing their own meanings instead. This would mirror the “Harry” style of art. Meanwhile, works like Dorian Gray are transparent. The story holds meaning beyond the surface, and Wilde’s focus on meaning in art provokes the reader to search for these meanings. Similar to Basil, he puts himself in the work. Wilde divorces the urges in his creative process and personifies them in Harry and Basil. One urge is to create clever and outwardly beautiful work, while the other is to create work that conveys meaning.