Why art is quite useless
February 23, 2013
Oscar Wilde closed the 1891 preface to the “Picture of Dorian Grey” with a most enigmatic epigram: “All art is quite useless.” All the Greek symbols of aesthetic majesty, all the Renaissance masterpieces that come to our days, the scraps of melodic perfection in Mozart, the lines of utter harmony in Shakespeare, his own fascinating aphorisms inclusively: they hold no function.
Upon learning this, it’s merely normal to exert your curiosity and, as Bernulf Clegg did back then, demand some competent explanations.
Dear Wilde never fudged responding to such enquiries with the sort of handwritten letters like the below shown.
16, TITE STREET,
My dear Sir
Art is useless because its aim is simply to create a mood. It is not meant to instruct, or to influence action in any way. It is superbly sterile, and the note of its pleasure is sterility. If the contemplation of a work of art is followed by activity of any kind, the work is either of a very second-rate order, or the spectator has failed to realize the complete artistic impression.
A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. A flower blossoms for its own joy. We gain a moment of joy by looking at it. That is all that is to be said about our relations to flowers. Of course man may sell the flower, and so make it useful to him, but this has nothing to do with the flower. It is not part of its essence. It is accidental. It is a misuse. All this is I fear very obscure. But the subject is a long one.
Has it clarified the concept? Do you adhere to his belief?
I myself find the word “useless” still too powerful to limit genuine art…