The Necessity of Useless Things.

"All art is quite useless".
Oscar Wilde, The Preface to "The Picture of Dorian Gray".

It seems to me that the more books I read, the more films I watch, the more paintings I see, I come to the conclusion that, as Oscar Wilde said, "all art is quite useless". Art, in all its forms, it appears, has no practical utility. Wilde remarked, then, that "the only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely".
However, by saying that art was useless, I don't think Wilde meant that it is also worthless. In fact, the very opposite might be true. To me, a great work of art, whether it be a book, a film, a painting, or a poem, always has a significant power - the power to inform, provoke, make social comment, civilise and redeem.
Keats wrote in his "Ode to a Grecian Urn", that "beauty is truth, truth beauty - that is all / Ye know on this earth, and all ye need to know". There has been a significant amount of critical speculation over exactly what Keats meant by this statement, with the poet T.S. Eliot even writing that, "this line strikes me as a serious blemish on a beautiful poem, and the reason must be either that I fail to understand it, or that it is a statement which is untrue". But, to me, Keats possibly was referring to that almost indefinable perfection of form and content, where the two meet and enhance each other, the place where what is said and how it is said intermingle and interact, creating something truly beautiful. Indeed, to me, any great work of art should be both beautiful and truthful, with it echoing at least some kind of truth, whether this be emotional, psychological, political, or societal.
Also, in the German film, "The Lives of Others", the redemptive and civilising power of art is shown. In the film the gradual transformation of an East German Stasi officer is conveyed as he spies on a blacklisted playwright. As he listens in on the life of this man, he gradually begins to sympathise with him and is introduced to a culture which he previously knew nothing of. At one point the Stasi officer is shown reading a poem by Brecht, as he transmogrifies from oppressor to eventual sympathiser.
It seems clear from this that although in any practical sense useless, art is definitely not worthless. In my own journey through mental ill health, I can testify to the power that art has to raise one above one's immediate predicament, and perhaps even help in our moral choices. In fact, I think I once wrote that I didn't believe in God, but I did believe in F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author of one of my favourite novels, "The Great Gatsby", which, incidentally, appears to be going through some kind of literary revival at the moment, even appearing in the top ten bestseller list.
So, all in all, I think there is a certain necessity for useless things. The power to imagine and create is something that I venerate a great deal, and although in essence art may actually be about inventing (as I once wrote in one of my own poems, it could be said to be "telling lies to find the truth"), it often speaks to us and echoes something truly profound. And I don't think you could really call that "useless".

P.S. Incidentally, this is the 200th posting on this ever so humble, little blog. Thanks to everyone who has commented and helped it on its way.          


Comments

klahanie said…
Dear David,
I was going to tell you to start using paragraphs and have you as bewildered as I was by the comment over at my site.

Of course and note the space in between, I can easily recognise a paragraph. Enough of that.

Ah yes, art, it all its forms and expressions, stirs the spirit and inspires creativity. Indeed, your writing is an art unto itself.
Too heck with the space in between paragraphs. David, this useful article is most articulate. Congrats, my hairy and intellectual buddy on this being your 200th posting. Shall we have a party?
Take care and lovely talking to you the other day.
Your starstruck fan, Gary

Dixie said…
Hi David.
200 posts! Good on you. I've enjoyed every one I've read. Useful stuff, man.

"All art is quite useless." (?)

I bristled at that line. If it is useless does that mean the creative person has wasted his/her time? Oh dear, I had to pull my head out and continue reading your post.

["But, to me, Keats possibly was referring to that almost indefinable perfection of form and content, where the two meet and enhance each other, the place where what is said and how it is said intermingle and interact, creating something truly beautiful."] This defines your own artistic post! Is it useless? No! Indeed I think I gained a new perspective for a better standard of evaluation. That is quite useful.

I am often intrigued by the subject matter of your blog, and marvel at the provocative expressionisms. (Is that a word?). You make me think!

"Great Gatsby" - now there's a big dish of irony. I have a love/hate thing with the book and the movie. The story will always be locked in the brain box. [ Wilde remarked, then, that "the only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely".] I suppose I could apply that concept to my reaction, but I wouldn't be alone in my thinking. And with that thought in mind, I am still waiting your next "useless" publication.

Take care,
Dixie
David said…
Dear Gary,
Thanks for your most pawsitive remarks. And yes, this is my 200th post, so we should definitely have a party. Maybe I could buy some party food with that £16.30 that I mentioned I got from Computer Exchange the other day! I have to be careful, though Gary. With all that money, I wouldn't want others beginning to take advantage of me!
Thanks for all your support, both in terms of this blog, and of course, in real life 3-D.
Very Best Wishes,
David.
David said…
Hi Dixie,
Thanks for your own musings on this topic. I'm glad that my posts inspire you to think, as thinking, I think, is really quite a good thing, although one should, as Kipling said, be able to "think and not make thoughts your aim".
But thanks for all your support, Dixie. Your comments have been a welcome and happy part of my blogging experience (all 200 posts of it!).
Very Best Wishes,
David.

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