“Harry,” he [Basil Hallward] said, “Dorian Gray is to me simply a motive in art. You might see nothing in him. I see everything in him. He is never more present in my work than when no image of him is there. He is a suggestion, as I have said, of a new manner. I find him in the curves of certain lines, in the lovliness and subtleties of certain colours. That is all.”
“Then why won’t you exhibit his portrait?” asked Lord Henry.
“Because, without intending it, I have put into it some expression of all this curious artistic idolatry, of which, of course, I have never cared to speak to him. He knows nothing about it. He shall never know anything about it. But the world might guess it, and I will not bare my soul to their shallow prying eyes.
“My heart shall never be put under their microscope. There is too much of myself in the thing, Harry — too much of myself!”
“Poets are not so scrupulous as you are. They know how useful passion is for publication. Nowadays a broken heart will run to many editions.”
“I hate them for it,” cried Hallward. “An artist should create beautiful things, but should put nothing into of his own life into them. We live in an age when men treat art as if it were meant to be a form of autobiography. We have lost the abstract sense of beauty. Some day I will show the world what it is; and for that reason the world shall never see my portrait of Dorian Gray.”
~ Chapter One, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, 1890
Basil Hallward, the tragic artist in Oscar Wilde’s single and scandalous novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, brings up an excellent point. Everyone always says that for an artist (painter, poet, singer) to achieve the highest form of beauty and authenticity, they must pour their heart and soul into their craft. And it makes sense. After all, can a songwriter be believable in crooning the lyrics to a melody of an abusive relationship just as well as someone who had experienced it? To give your art that something extra, that je ne sais quoi, you have to sacrifice something very private and very personal.
But how personal?
Basil’s dilemma is that he’s worried Dorian Gray and the public will see in his portrait the entirely inappropriate infatuation he has with the cherubic boy. As he says, his “heart shall never be put under their microscope.” The picture simply means too much to him, and can’t bear the thought of anyone beholding it — for to do so would place him naked under scrutiny, and the magical quality that makes made him produce beautiful pieces of art would be taken for nothing but the public’s idea of muse, inspiration, and beauty. And to Basil, Dorian’s picture means so much more than that.
After picking up my poetry again, I can say I’ve shared in Basil’s worry. Have I put too much of myself into this poem? Does it say too much about me? Will it make me vulnerable if I let others read it?
Lord Henry Wotton points out, in persuasion for Basil to exhibit this picture, that: “Poets are not so scrupulous as you are. They know how useful passion is for publication.”
Touché, Harry, touché. People love reading about other people’s innermost thoughts, worries, and problems, especially the romantic poetry format. They might be so absorbed in relation to their own issues that they only appreciate what the poet has written, not what’s in the poet’s heart.
Or maybe there’s a difference between letting strangers read your work, as opposed to people you know, love, and care about. A stranger has no idea who you are, what your life might be like, and can appreciate the poetry for what it is — an emotional release, an experiment with words and feelings. Someone who knows you might immediately begin to show concern at your mental well being. Maybe you actually have a personal issue. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you think you do. How can you explain that?
So I suppose it depends on how confident you are in yourself, and if you’re looking to get your poems published or not. Do you want people to see/hear your words, even if it means baring yourself to them? Would you rather keep the private poems hidden in a shoebox, only to see the world again on nostalgic, rainy days? Or do you keep your deepest emotions out of your work, to avoid the terrifying task of sharing at all costs? If you chose this route, aren’t you A) missing out on releasing those pent-up emotions? and B) being disloyal to yourself and your potential readers by producing poems that don’t mean anything to you?
Qu’est-ce que tu pense? What do you think?