After reading the “The Ballad of a Barber,” and some of The Picture of Dorian Gray, I started to think again about the idea of creation of beauty, artist as creator, and corruption of beauty.
In “The Ballad of the Barber,” the barber is known for his abilities to make things beautiful. Just as much as an artist in any other sphere of art, the manipulation of hair and one’s face with makeup is an act of creation. But the barber suddenly loses his ability to do so when he is confronted with the young princess, an already stunning girl. The princess is naturally beautiful. Perhaps, like in “The Decay of Lying,” one’s natural state being beautiful is something hard to understand. If it is not man-made, then it can’t be beautiful. But since the princess already is, perhaps that is why she was killed by the Barber. His act of murder may be a sort of morbid creation itself. He could not understand or handle her natural beauty, and so had to get rid of it, or one-up it with her murder, in a twisted way.
In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian is also already beautiful. With Basil, he is admired for such beauty. He is confined to the inside world, where he sits for portraits and enjoys his influence over Basil. He’s like a princess sitting in a castle. But Lord Henry gets him out of the castle. Again, this sense of twisted manipulation comes in. Lord Henry enjoys corrupting Dorian, he has this power over him that he utilizes. Dorian is described using flower-like imagery, showing he is beautiful, pure, fragile, and corruptible. Henry likes to think that he created Dorian out of his influence, like I’m sure the Barber felt he created beautiful things out of his influence. Perhaps, like the Barber, Lord Henry does not know what to do with something so naturally beautiful except to corrupt it. That is the only thing you can do to something that you can’t make any more beautiful: try to ruin it. Or maybe, to try and make it one’s own. Murdering the princess gave the Barber a tie to her. I’m not sure yet if Lord Henry is really trying to “ruin” Dorian, but I get the sense that he has this compulsion to corrupt, and a compulsion to make Dorian his own.
I’m interested to see how Lord Henry and Dorian’s relationship develops throughout the rest of the story, and if it is going to go down a similar path as the princess’s fate.
I was really intrigued by Symon’s comparison of Decadence to an opera glass in his piece “The Decadent Movement in Literature.” The Decadents’ whole ethos is an emphasis of style, cleverness and beauty over substance. The opera glass is “a special, unique way of seeing things” (138), particular to the closer examination of an art form. As a tool of vision and perception, the opera glass is a really helpful analogy, a way of articulating how the Decadents viewed their whole movement. They were creating a particular way of experiencing art and understanding beauty, a special and unique way of seeing things, of seeing art and of rendering “our ideas, our sensations… a personal language, a language bearing our signature.” (139) Even further, the idea of particular perception they are articulating dovetails really nicely with this analogy because perception is so subjective and hinges fundamentally on the way the individual reacts to stimuli in their environment. That the opera glass is a perceptual tool further reinforces the Decedents’ assertion that what the individual sees in a work of art is a reflection of that individual and that individual alone, divorced from the emotional or perceptual effort of the artist.
That it is specifically an opera glass is also really informative. Opera is a performative, often inaccessible art form with a reputation for elitism that typically doesn’t resonate with those who are unfamiliar with or haven’t been exposed to the language and cultural experience tied to opera. Similarly, if you don’t hold with or share the experiences of the Decadents, their work becomes all that much harder to parse and understand — what is jest, what is truth, what do they actually believe. They are interested in “a desperate endeavor to give sensation, to flash the impression of the moment, to preserve the very heart and motion of life” (138). You have to use their opera glasses, their understanding of the world to get a close enough look to understand what they are getting at. It is interesting to note that Symons is using an analogy for viewing visual art to discuss the Decadent movement in Literature specifically, and to think about what that means for how he or other Decadents viewed the distinctions between different art forms. While I don’t buy into the idea of art for art’s sake personally, the analogy of the opera glass is easy to hold onto as a measure of the way the Decadents viewed themselves, their perception of their movement.