Intentions by Oscar Wilde
Author: Oscar Wilde
Genre: Non-fiction, Essay
Intentions is a collection of essays and dialogues written by Irish playwright, poet, and essayist Oscar Wilde. It was first published in 1891. The book includes four essays in which Wilde explores various aspects of art, literature, and criticism. “Intentions” is considered an important work in the realm of aestheticism and is known for Wilde’s witty and often paradoxical writing style.
1. Intentions by Oscar Wilde Introduction
Within Intentions, Wilde grapples with the philosophy of aesthetics, explores the role of the artist and critic, and contemplates the nature of art and its relationship to life. The book is emblematic of Wilde’s wit, erudition, and profound belief in art’s transformative power.
The collection comprises four dialogues/essays: “The Critic as Artist,” “The Decay of Lying,” “Pen, Pencil, and Poison,” and “The Truth of Masks.” Each piece in “Intentions” reflects a facet of Wilde’s aesthetic philosophy.
2. Intentions by Oscar Wilde Summary
The Decay of Lying
Presented as a dialogue between two characters, Vivian and Cyril, “The Decay of Lying” delves into Wilde’s views on art, literature, and the nature of truth.
Central to the essay is Wilde’s assertion that lying, or more specifically, artful and creative untruth, is essential to the progress and vitality of art. He laments what he perceives as a decline in the imaginative fibs and artistic exaggerations that once permeated literature and art. For Wilde, the “lie” in art is not about deception in the conventional sense but rather about the creation of beautiful and imaginative alternative realities.
Wilde famously argues that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life,” suggesting that art doesn’t merely reflect the world but has the power to shape and influence the way society perceives and interacts with reality. In this context, the “lie” becomes a transformative tool, enabling artists to reshape the mundane realities of everyday life into something more beautiful and meaningful. Read The Decay of Lying summary at Sevenov.
Pen, Pencil, and Poison
“Pen, Pencil, and Poison” is a biographical exploration of the life of Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, a 19th-century English writer and artist who was also a convicted poisoner. Wainewright is an intriguing figure, and Wilde’s portrayal of him is characteristically nuanced and provocative.
In the essay, Wilde doesn’t just focus on the more sensationalist aspects of Wainewright’s life, such as his crimes. Instead, he delves deeply into Wainewright’s artistic pursuits, exploring his work as both a writer and a painter. Wilde uses this biographical sketch as a means to engage with broader questions about art, morality, and the nature of the artist.
One of the central themes of “Pen, Pencil, and Poison” is the relationship between artistic genius and morality. Wilde challenges conventional Victorian views on this matter, subtly suggesting that an artist’s talents and aesthetic achievements might be viewed separately from their personal ethics or deeds. In doing so, he also raises questions about society’s tendency to judge individuals based on their worst actions, rather than considering the entirety of their lives. Read Pen, Pencil, and Poison summary at Sevenov.
The Critic as Artist
Presented as a dialogue, much in the Platonic style, between characters named Gilbert and Ernest, “The Critic as Artist” delves into the role of criticism in art and culture, as well as the nature and purpose of art itself.
Wilde challenges traditional notions by asserting that the critic is as much an artist as the creator of the original work. He proposes that criticism is not just a passive act of analyzing or judging art, but rather, it is a creative act in and of itself. The critic, through his interpretation and presentation, brings new life and meaning to the work, reshaping and even enhancing the original.
Central to the essay is Wilde’s belief in the “art for art’s sake” philosophy, which holds that art should be appreciated for its beauty and form rather than its moral or social messages. He argues against didacticism in art, emphasizing the importance of form over content and the aesthetic experience over moral instruction. Read The Critic as Artist summary at Sevenov.
The Truth of Masks
“The Truth of Masks” explores the role and significance of costume in historical drama. Wilde’s main contention is that accuracy in historical costume is essential, not just for superficial aesthetics, but for the truth of characterization itself.
Wilde pushes back against the notion that attention to costume details is mere pedantry. He argues that the clothes characters wear provide essential context to the viewer or reader, imbuing the character with a specific cultural and historical backdrop. In a sense, Wilde is making the point that external appearances, especially in drama, are not superficial but can be deeply revelatory.
The title itself, “The Truth of Masks,” encapsulates Wilde’s belief in the paradox that a mask, or a costume, can sometimes reveal more truth about a character or an era than a bare face. This perspective ties in with Wilde’s broader views on art, aesthetics, and the nature of truth; throughout his works, he often delves into the idea that artifice can be a pathway to deeper truths. Read The Truth of Masks summary at Sevenov.
Oscar Wilde’s Intentions encompass a rich tapestry of artistic exploration. From “The Decay of Lying” to “The Truth of Masks,” his essays challenge, inspire and encourage readers to contemplate the depths of creativity. If you’re interested in Wilde’s profound musings and unique perspectives in this collection, you can check out the full version of Intentions online.