I’m re-reading The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I do every so often. In a scant few pages are packed philosophy and idolatry, a cautionary tale, a revelation of adoration, an abundance of clever wordplay, all wrapped up in gorgeous prose.
The book also was infamously used as evidence against Oscar Wilde during his trials. Using books as legal stichomancy is disreputable; but if certain passages were selected to condemn him, others can be pulled to defend him, and perhaps all artists.
In the story, Basil Hallward tells Lord Henry Wotton that he doesn’t want to show his painting of Dorian Gray at an exhibition because he’s put too much of himself into it. Basil says he has unintentionally revealed his artistic and personal worshipful admiration of Dorian, things he especially doesn’t want Dorian to know. If others were to see it, “…the world might guess it; and I will not bare my soul to their shallow, prying eyes. My heart shall never be put under their microscope.”
Basil goes on to say that artists should put nothing of their own lives into their work, and that art should not be treated as a form of autobiography. But of course we all do to some extent. Wilde did, too.
In order to create something beautiful and meaningful, revelations will occur. Some things can be cleverly concealed with a bit of creative manipulation, but artists will uncover parts of themselves, it’s inevitable. And, it’s intentional. Artists want to generate stories as experienced through their personal lenses. They create the path, and we navigate using our own perception. Neither has complete control of the exchange, and that’s what makes art beautiful, and imperative to human experience.
Those who hold nothing back willingly subject themselves to scrutiny, but the audience has the responsibility to scrutinize with the expectation of no absolutes, and refrain from censorship and misapplications. Without the synergetic relationship between art and audience, there can be no meaningful exchange.
As for those who try to use art against the artist, against others, and for dogmatic gain, they reveal an ugly image not of the artist, but of themselves. An idiot extracts what they please to uphold their own beliefs; a philosopher takes the opportunity to question beliefs. Why pander to ignorance, even to save judgement? At times, there may be little solace in knowing your own heart and head, but there is great dignity. In the end, that is what Wilde exemplified, and it has made him a champion as well as an artist.