A faculty member at the Department of English Language and Literature at Fenerbahçe University, İstanbul, Başak got her BA degree from Hacettepe University, Department of English Language and Literature, and PhD degree from Istanbul Aydın University, Department of English Language and Literature. She is an admirer of literature and philosophy. Investigating the late Victorian period and its contradictions, deepening at the epistemology of socially constructed phenomena, and sociohistorical aspects of modernism are her current interests.
“Is Wilde’s Aesthetics “Lying”? Art as a Modernist Commodity”
In his essay “The Decay of Lying” (1889), Oscar Wilde supports the position of art and artist against the common, middle-class society. He states that the artist’s efforts to provide a representation of reality are vain since even nature imitates art, which postures art above the tumults of life. Such an argument is obviously an indication of Wilde being opposed to a cultural stratum empowered by capitalism and consumption. On the other hand, especially due to the success of his well-liked plays such as Lady Windermere’s Fan (1893) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), he appears to be amused by the outcomes of staging, a capitalism-oriented industry with its expenditure on decorative goods and clothes, and the sales of entertainment. This paper argues that the concept of art in Wilde’s terms is not for its own sake, as commonly declared by the aesthetes. He perceives art making as a performance, a production leading to finances. Hence, art equals to commodity. Wilde is a modernist in spirit, and literally a precursor to the values of the upcoming age. The paper presents this argument both through the explanation of his interest in the vogue and an analysis of “The Decay of Lying”, where he also refers to the effects of paintings on their audiences who are, at the same time, potential buyers. The artist, in Wilde’s opinion, carries the urge to make an impact on his audience, too; therefore, it is not wrong to say that the artist looks out for his profit, and tries appealing to a market. Wilde’s strong connection with the stylish and what follows, namely the search for profit, are the elements taking him out of the Victorian ideals and proving his modernism.