Wilde states in the preface to the novel ‘There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all’. – Can you read a moral dimension to this story?
Oscar Wilde’s preface remains one of the most quoted statements which raises the question about the moral responsibility of an artist. Wilde was put under pressure by those who considered his work immoral and do not confine to societal standards. As it is with most piece of art, there are always supporters and critics. Wilde wrote the novel to respond to the critics. According to Wilde, there is nothing like a moral or immoral book but good or bad books. The writer believed that there is nothing like immoral work because the work of the artist is not to instruct the reader on what to read, but the reader should choose what to read and not to read. A true artist is not to prove anything and make judgments on what they consider right or wrong art (Guan 24). According to Wilde, what most people find virtues or vices are material of artist and those who attempt to go beyond to read what is beneath the surface of work or into the symbol, do so at their own risk. Thus, considerable disagreements on work of arts only prove that art is intricate and the choice on what to read from the symbol and meaning is with the reader and not an artist.
According to Wilde, the determination of whether the art is moral or immoral is up to the artists but the users. “Wilde believes that the role of artists is to produce good art, but the judgment beneath the art should be left to the people to make” (Guan 24). Wilde added the preface to his novel one year after the book was launched. This was a response to the critic of his book. Wilde response was that the good always ends happily and the bad unhappily, but the good thing is not necessarily moral. Artists use their talents to express their feeling or feeling about something else, and it is not guaranteed that object to please each person. Art is quite useless and exists for itself and not to serve a moral purpose. Wilde expects art to give revelation of human life and should transform life into something quite different from what each individual expect in their everyday life.
When people choose something, they want it at their own risk and should not blame the writer for any wrongdoing. Moreover, morality is a subject to interpretation and depend on individual’s judgment and what an individual considers immoral may not be immoral to another person. When asked what poisonous books are, Wilde replied: “My story is poisonous if you like, but you cannot deny that it is also perfect” (Guan 24). Artists and writers have a responsibility to write and express their opinion through novels and drawings, and most of their work has a message to the readers. People would indeed judge the work, but that should distract the author because the users have a right to choose what they want to read and what not to read. If they find the book does not fit their standards, they have a choice to stop reading it but should not quick to criticize the author because the author is just expressing what he feels.
Wilde concludes in the preface that there is nothing like the moral or immoral book because it is fine to create something as long as the artist believes the message in the art reaches the intended audience. “All art is quite useless.” That is, it exists for its own sake as art (“art for art’s sake”) and not for some moral purpose” (Guan 24).
Guan, Beibei. “Oscar Wilde’s Aestheticism.” Journal of Arts and Humanities 7.2 (2018): 24-32.