Dorian Gray’s Enduring Lesson

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The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde offers a compelling take on the old moral that looks aren’t everything.

Dorian Gray starts out as a likable character who is somewhat naïve. He sits for an artist who paints a spectacular portrait of him that captures his youth, innocence, and overall chaste soul. During the process, he meets Lord Henry Wotton whose downright cynical view of society and the world in general taints young Gray’s optimistic perspective. So changed is he, Dorian Gray makes a silent plea that he could trade his soul in order to retain youth and beauty. As fate would have it, his plea is actually heard. So follows a life of despicable acts both great and small. While Dorian Gray remains youthful, charming, and beautiful throughout his life, his appearance is just the equivalent of shiny wrapping paper hiding a grotesque soul. He realizes this the moment his portrait begins to change. With each lie, act of selfishness, and unforgivable discretion, his face in the painting becomes ugly with hypocrisy, deceit, and hate.

Wilde takes great pains to stress that people are much too often caught up in the show that is life. Outward appearances, social status, material belongings, and reputation often steal attention that would be better spent on the soul. Wilde chooses to make this point not only through Dorian himself, but with an intricately crafted metaphor invovling the arts, (i.e. music, paintings, fiction etc.). The surface  beauty of all these mediums is treasured and admired with great reverance. Through Lord Henry, Wilde contends this is a great fault of humanity. For we transfer this love of tangible beauty to humans and fail to see the real person.

c.b. 2012

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Van Gogh Never Thought Of This

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While strolling through Trafalgar Square, I saw a curious outdoor art display that literally brings art to life.  The National Gallery of London sits at the head of the square and houses some of the art world’s most treasured pieces, including a few paintings by Vincent Van Gogh.  In front of the museum, a multi-story display takes one of his masterpieces and ingeniously fuses impressionism with vertical gardening.

 

This part of the display shows the original version of the painting, A Wheatfield With Cypress.

Van Gogh’s painting re-imagined with layers of live greenery, (Click on image for full-size view).

To me this is beautiful tribute to the fact that the creative spirit of humanity knows no bounds.

c.b. 2011

Reading On The Thames

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Even in a city as big and as loud as London, it is possible to lose yourself in the sound of lapping waves on the river and the warm feel from a spot of sun.  Along the South Embankment of the Thames, I sit on a bench that offers an amazing view of Parliament (no matter how many times I’ve seen it, the building itself is never less than impressive).  It’s late afternoon and rain threatens, but I along with a few others decide to take advantage of the fact that the showers have yet to fall.  The gentleman beside me reads a book about Barbarossa and I am content with a freshly pressed edition of the London Evening Standard.  The rumble of urban traffic is faint in the distance and the hum of boat motors skip across the water, but above all else the trees overhead rustle with a pleasing wisp of leaves bumping into one another.  Big Ben chimes at half past the hour and I take in the day’s news.

Before long, I’m absorbed in stories about illiteracy in London, theatre reviews, and political debates over the economy and NHS.  A strong, chilly breeze fights for control over the newspaper pages, but I press on and win the battle.  The noise of the city is all but gone.  It’s just me and newsprint whittling the day away, one story at a time.  I could be anywhere and nowhere all at once.  It’s just another day until I look up and see a shaft of sun hit Parliament and bounce off Westminster Bridge.  In amazement, I realize I’m in the heart of London basking in a stunning reminder of the good fortune that brought me to this beautiful place.

Here’s my view, shortly before the rain came pouring down . . .

c.b. 2011