The Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray

by Oscar Wilde
The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
        To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s
The critic is he who can translate into another
manner or a new material his impression of
beautiful things.
              The highest as the lowest form of criti-
              cism is a mode of autobiography.
Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful
things are corrupt without being charming.
This is a fault.

              Those who find beautiful meanings

              in beautiful things are the cultivated.

              For these there is hope.

They are the elect to whom beautiful things

mean only Beauty.

         There is no such thing as a moral or an

         immoral book. Books are well written,
         or badly written.  That is all.
The nineteenth century dislike of Realism is the
rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.

                  The nineteenth century dislike of

                  Romanticism is the rage of Caliban

                  not seeing his own face in a glass.
        The moral life of man forms part of the

        subject-matter of the artist, but the morality

        of art consists in the perfect use of an im-

        perfect medium.

     No artist desires to prove anything. Even

     things that are true can be proved.

              No artist has ethical sympathies. An

              ethical sympathy in an artist is an un-
              pardonable mannerism of style.

                      No artist is ever morbid. The artist

                      can express everything.

      Thought and language are to the artist

      instruments of an art.

           Vice and virtue are to the artist materials

           for an art.

From the point of view of form, the type of all
the arts is the art of the musician. From the
point of view of feeling, the actor’s craft is the

                      All art is at once surface and


       Those who go beneath the surface do so at

       their peril.

               Those who read the symbol do so at

               their peril.

It is the spectator, and not life, that art really

     Diversity of opinion about a work of art

     shows that the work is new, complex, and


        When critics disagree, the artist is in accord
        with himself.
We can forgive a man for making a useful
thing as long as he does not admire it. The
only excuse for making a useless thing is that
one admires it intensely.

            All art is quite useless.

                                                            OSCAR WILDE


The Picture of Dorian Gray — A novella (short novel) about a physically beautiful but amoral young man who owns a magical portrait. As he commits acts of cruelty and vice, his own physical body remains perfect but the portrait changes, turning progressively more hideous as it reflects his character until he eventually has to keep it hidden in the attic. Wilde knew the novella would be controversial, so he wrote this preface as a way to anticipate and rebut objections to it.
They — Somewhat unconventionally, this pronoun refers forward to elect. Conventionally, a pronoun refers backward to an antecedent, a noun that has already appeared. Wilde can get away with this kind of syntactical inversion because this line clearly stands apart from the prior line. The more common syntax here would be The elect are those to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.
Realism — Realism as a literary genre emphasizes showing life in its proper proportion, which means it does not concern itself with extraordinary people, extreme circumstances, or fanciful plots. Rather, it focuses on how people behave and function in their daily lives. Much realistic literature functions as an explicit or implicit critique of society. Also, it often takes an explicitly psychological approach to characterization.
Caliban — A character in Shakespeare’s final masterpiece, The Tempest, Caliban is a kind of brutish servant of the magician Prospero. He is ugly and ignorant, but not lacking intelligence or ambition, and he fantasizes about stealing Prospero’s books (which he cannot read) in order to become more powerful than Prospero and overthrow him. Wilde is referring to how Caliban is enraged by his own brutal appearance and nature.
glass — This word is short for looking-glass, meaning a mirror.
Romanticism — Romanticism as a literary genre emphasizes intensity, to the point where it tends to privilege the intensity of experience over its type or quality. Romantic protagonists typically are brilliant individualists who defy society’s conventions in pursuit of some higher truth or achievement. Note that Romance in this sense has no necessary connection to tales of romantic love, though romantic love can sometimes represent that higher truth.
type — ideal form, as in archetype
musician —Wilde adapted this idea from those of one of his tutors at Oxford, the critic Walter Pater. Pater had written, “All art aspires to the condition of music.”