All art is useless

In 1890, a fan wrote to Oscar Wilde asking him to explain a sentence in the preface of The Picture of Dorian Gray : “All art is quite useless”. How could a writer say something so callous? Did it not put to question his own existence? Wilde’s reply was both relevatory and magnificent in its brevity.

“A work of art is useless as a flower is useless,” he writes. Its purpose is not to educate or influence. A flower blossoms for its own joy. “Of course man may sell the flower, and so make it useful to him, but this has nothing to do with the flower. It is not part of its essence. It is accidental.”

Lippincott doriangray

Below is the transcript of the letter. The complete letter can be found on Letters of Note :

16, TITE STREET,
CHELSEA. S.W.

My dear Sir

Art is useless because its aim is simply to create a mood. It is not meant to instruct, or to influence action in any way. It is superbly sterile, and the note of its pleasure is sterility. If the contemplation of a work of art is followed by activity of any kind, the work is either of a very second-rate order, or the spectator has failed to realise the complete artistic impression.

A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. A flower blossoms for its own joy. We gain a moment of joy by looking at it. That is all that is to be said about our relations to flowers. Of course man may sell the flower, and so make it useful to him, but this has nothing to do with the flower. It is not part of its essence. It is accidental. It is a misuse. All this is I fear very obscure. But the subject is a long one.

Truly yours,

Oscar Wilde

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The forgotten gift

You have a gift. Use it well.

​Many years ago, when you were young and green and the world was your oyster, someone said those words to you. Oh, the innocence of youth! You believed it then. You had a gift, you thought. You had something special to give the world, something only you could create. You were a very, very special being.​​Those were the days, of heady first loves and limitless possibilities, when every plot idea you conjured had the makings of a potential bestseller. Today those storyboards sound so ridiculous. Today you couldn’t think of a novel-worthy story idea if someone put a gun to your head. That super-confident self has disappeared, buried and defeated among a pile of rejection letters and not-too-polite brush-offs.
 
You take to the internet to write, because on the blogosphere the rules are relaxed and everyone’s hair is down. You can be anyone you fancy, manic-pixie-dream-girl one day, activist-with-a-cause the next. The anonymity, the freedom, are intoxicating. But even here, you find minor celebrities, people who are loud and forceful with their opinions, people you will never be. Are you not good enough, you wonder. A small quiet voice tells you, but you have a gift, child. 
 
Each passing day, you believe it less and less.

You stop attempting poetry, because someone once thought it wasn’t worth commenting on. They were probably right, you think. Poetry calls for a kind of sensitivity and empathy you sorely lack, anyhow.
 
You still write, of course. Not as much as in your halcyon days, but a little bit. In the middle of a tawdry job and the daily humdrum of life, you try to do something about that little promise you held out as a child.
 
One day, spurred by gushing reviews from a few well-meaning friends, you enter a writing contest. You wait, days, weeks, months, thinking that somehow this could be it.  Your breakthrough. You imagine telling your friends about the victory. Guess who won the xyz award this year? 🙂 🙂 🙂 Classy was never really your forte.
 
And then the day dawns, and you look up the results eagerly, thinking that maybe, just maybe, you might have won something; perhaps a consolation prize or an honourable mention, and you see your name is not up there. And you labour down the list, because hey, lots of dimwitted fools like you wanted to know if they at least made it to the top 10, and the magazine obliged by publishing a list. And you slowly make your way down the list, rereading each bio carefully, because what if you miss yours? But it isn’t there. A tight squeezing feeling constricts your chest, and you struggle to look nonchalant.
 
You have a gift.
 
​Some day, you will stop believing those words, and something will die inside you. ​

Random musings on a Monday morning

So here I am, lazing in bed, writing nonsense because I have 200 things on my to-do-list and don’t know where to start. Some random observations at this moment:

1. I’ve just realised I’m not a very nice person. Now if you knew me in person you might disagree, but believe me, it’s all an act. In my head I call you the vilest of names and wish unspeakable things to you.

2. I hate my job at the moment. It sucks! Mostly it has to do with stuff I can’t elaborate on, because though it’s getting on my nerves right now, on good days I like what I do and saying anything more is a sure shot way to not get to do it anymore.

3. So I was skimming through the education supplement in the newspaper and feeling envious of all the young ducks studying hornbills in Ecuador and doing their Ph.D. at Georgia Tech, when I realised: this envy is never going to end. At some point or the other I’ve wanted to do practically everything under the sun, and the wisdom (!!) of passing years tells me that unless I can somehow turn back time and live three lifetimes in one, that isn’t happening. The other thing I’ve come to accept is that this crushing restlessness is going to last me my whole life. Maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe it’s good to never settle, to always be searching for greener pastures. The whole idea of knowing your goal in life is a scam sold by puerile aunts and columnists in aforesaid education supplements, methinks.

4. These to-do lists will never end. No point stressing over them. This isn’t really something I get most of the time. Mostly I’m either frantically rushing from one place to another, or so bugged by everything I end up doing nothing. Mostly it’s the latter.

5. After staring at the screen for a good half hour, it strikes me: I’m not good at long pieces. Woe betide if I have to write something longer than 350 words. At the stroke of 350, realisation dawns about what balderdash I write and how terrible I’m at it, and how I’ll never be the writer I dream of being and how much I suck at ‘ideating’. (By the way, this is a fancy new word I learnt in office recently.) On a more positive note, I am definitely a copy-editor’s dream. I always put in less then the amount of words asked for. The moment I reach the golden number, I’m dying to hit the send button and run away.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Ciao!

A little whimsy

I sat there, forcing myself into that uncomfortable space.  Putting my phone away, feeling that “incredible loneliness”, as Louis put it. Listening, really listening, to my despair.

That Crillon cake was perfect. And the tea too. It’s good to be able to feel it; that aloneness. You can almost hear them, those unhappy thoughts, wailing as they crawl inside. And all those shiny happy faces… are they looking at you, wondering what you’re doing? No, they’re living out their lives, just as you are. You’re the stranger in the window they see for a fleeting second.

A moment of sonder strikes you. You leave a note for the stranger who will take your seat. “To the person who sits here next: have a wonderful day.”

Continue reading “A little whimsy”

Why do we blog?

Ok, so ten thousand people on the big bad Internet have answered this question, in words more eloquent than I can ever churn.

But I need to answer, because in this case, the only answer that matters to me is mine.

I blog because I love words, and fancy myself as a bit of a writer. Also because for years I’ve written things and hidden them in drawers, tying whimsical ribbons on the top and letting them die under the dust.