What is Art, Really?

“It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself. The reason I will not exhibit this picture is that I am afraid that I have shown in it the secret of my own soul.”  (Page 4)

In the beginning of the novel, the identity of Dorian Gray is explained by Basil, a character who is infatuated by Dorian. Basil speaks nothing but praise of this character and rambles on and on of how inspirational this man is.  At first, it would seem that Basil wanted to capture the beauty of Dorian Gray in the portrait he painted. After all, Dorian is the subject of the painting. This, however, is not the case. Instead of trying to portray Dorian’s winning personality in a painting, Basil puts his own “soul” into the painting. At first, Basil’s motive of the painting does not make any sense. Why would one draw their own personal feelings when it is not the subject of the painting? Dorian is not the embodiment of Basil’s feelings, so why draw him in the first place? This train of thought is expected when thinking of art rationally. Basil did not mean this in a literal sense. He meant that he was painting what he felt instead of what he saw. Dorian was simply inspiration physically as well as emotionally.

This concept of being able to put a “soul” in a painting is rather intriguing. One cannot see a soul. In fact, it is a bit odd that Basil will not show his picture of Dorian because he is worried others will see his soul in the painting. No one knows what a soul looks like. Even if Basil’s soul was in the painting, it is not something anyone could see. There may be, however, a different implication  Basil’s use of the word “soul”. As stated in the passage, he is afraid of people seeing the secret that is in his soul. This statement is rather vague and leaves the implication that Basil is more than intrigued by Dorian Gray’s personality and dashing good looks. It is possible that Basil is hiding a crush and is afraid it is shown in his painting.  Maybe that is what is meant by putting his soul into his work.


One thought on “What is Art, Really?”

  1. When Basil talked about putting his soul into the painting of Dorian Gray, I initially didn’t understand how he could do this. I personally view art as an outlet for people to put their feelings on a canvas, so the fact that Basil would not want Lord Henry to see the painting was confusing to me. However, as the story unfolded, I began to recognize the dynamic between the characters, and the way that Basil acted towards Dorian Gray. I agree with Bella in that Basil’s painting reflected his soul because the painting has a deeper meaning that just being a portrait of Dorian Gray. It is clear that Basil’s true romantic feelings towards Dorian is what he expresses is his painting. He means that there is a part of his soul in his work because he painted Dorian the way that he sees him personally. Basil asks Lord Henry many times if he will even understand what the painting means, intimating that the feelings that Basil reveals in his painting of Dorian are so personal and strong, that Lord Henry will probably not be able to fully understand and appreciate the painting. So although initially we questioned Basil’s claim of his painting reflecting his soul, when we examine the way he acts towards Dorian, it becomes clearer that he is hiding a secret in his painting about his true feelings.

Leave a Reply