The Picture Of Dorian Gray

One of my favourite tales is The Picture Of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde. 

Through a fictional story, Wilde poses the question of the nature of modern art, and the notion that its conceit is that all art is autobiographic.

Dorian's character is the metaphor for the idea, a beautifui, young man who wishes that his portrait could carry the weight of his soul, leaving him free to experience all manner of depraved and decadent indulgences, to break all the rules without consequence to himself. And the wish is granted - the portrait becomes a twisted image of age and deterioration, bloated and sick with corruption, while Dorian remains young and beautiful. 

In the end, Dorian is confronted by his portrait's soul, and tries to destroy it, reversing the magic, and killing himself, winding up as the evil old man lying dead on the floor, while the portrait is unharmed, and beautiful again.

It's a fanciful notion, but in retrospect, I can view the modern world of Wilde's future, and where art has deviated from the grandeur and even sacred beauty of the masters, who were entranced with ideas of the elevation of humanity, to where the darkness of the human soul has transformed art to a glorification of simplified images stencilled on street walls as the height of human expression, an enduring apathy and cynicism directed at our contradictions and hypocrisy. The irony of Dorian's tale is not so much a metaphor anymore as it was a prediction of things to come, that art would become the vehicle of our personal views, and would bear the brunt of our corruption of the beauty of the soul. 

We are enamoured by self-destruction - first as a form of reinvention, then as a form of self-preservation, and before too long, an addiction to careless freedoms and a life without boundaries. The twentieth century saw many of the modern artists engaging with the depth of their own corruption, an exploration into the depravities of an immoral life, at first, just the innocence of curious minds, and then the indifference of broken ones. Beauty became indicative of innocence and naive charm, while the hardest hitting realities and brutal truths were willingly displayed as honest and leading edge artforms, confronting the world with the ugliness of its corrupted soul, just like Dorian and his portrait. 

The truth about breaking boundaries is that without rules, without a moral compass, without a code of integrity, the soul falls apart, and what we witness in modern art today is the mirror of a world trying to put itself back together.