The Picture of Dorian Gray

Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
The Mortality of Beauty and Youth Theme Icon
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
Influence Theme Icon
Women and Men Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Picture of Dorian Gray, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon

The novel opens with a theory of the purpose of art, which Wilde reasons out until he reaches that “all art is quite useless”. Whether or not this is some kind of warning from the narrator, we as readers don’t know, but what follows certainly seems to illustrate his point. It presents art in many forms and the danger of it when it is taken too literally or believed too deeply. It starts with a painting, which alters the perspectives that look on it and seems to alter itself. Once Basil has attributed to the painting the power of capturing the spirit of Dorian Gray, and once Dorian has attributed to it the power to host and represent his own soul, the painting has a dangerous life of its own. Dorian’s romance with the actress Sybil Vane is composed of the romantic characters she played and the drama of each nightly performance. To see the girl die on stage and then find her backstage alive and beautiful is a supernatural kind of existence that cannot last. The danger of seeing life only through the lens of art is that one must stay at a distance or risk ruining the illusion, just like a mirage. This is Dorian’s trouble, and Basil’s trouble, and through these examples we learn that the closer one comes to art, the closer one comes to some kind of death or destruction.

The set up of Dorian’s world in society and in his own home is full of pictures, stills and images through which we see life frozen or removed. Whether portraits, tapestries, or scenes, these images build up and up in the novel until Dorian’s climactic act of stabbing his own painting. It is the ever-present pressure of art—of being a piece of living art himself, and of seeing real life mirrored in the portrait—that destroys Dorian. In addition, as we read the novel, we are aware of the power of the narrator to embody the characters omnisciently, and to implant repetitions of their particular vocabulary, imitating the influence that Lord Henry’s memorable phrases have on Dorian’s mind. As a piece of art itself, the novel invites us to question its form and purpose, as the argument of the preface suggests.

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Art and the Imitation of Life ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Art and the Imitation of Life appears in each chapter of The Picture of Dorian Gray. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Art and the Imitation of Life Quotes in The Picture of Dorian Gray

Below you will find the important quotes in The Picture of Dorian Gray related to the theme of Art and the Imitation of Life.
The Preface Quotes

To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.

Related Symbols: The Picture
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

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All art is quite useless

Related Symbols: The Picture
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 1 Quotes

“He is all my art to me now.”

Related Characters: Basil Hallward (speaker), Dorian Gray
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

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“An artist should create beautiful things but should put nothing of his own life into them”

Related Characters: Basil Hallward (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Picture
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 2 Quotes

“Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul”

Related Characters: Lord Henry Wotton (speaker)
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

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“If it were only the other way! If it were I who was always young, and the picture that was to grow old!”

Related Characters: Dorian Gray (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Picture
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 4 Quotes

“I have seen her in every age and every costume. Ordinary women never appeal to one’s imagination. They are limited to their century.”

Related Characters: Dorian Gray (speaker), Sybil Vane
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 5 Quotes

Mrs. Vane fixed her eyes on him, and intensified the smile. She mentally elevated her son to the dignity of an audience. She felt sure that the tableau was interesting.

Related Characters: Mrs. Vane (speaker), James ‘Jim’ Vane
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 7 Quotes

“The painted scenes were my world. I knew nothing but shadows and thought them real.”

Related Characters: Sybil Vane (speaker)
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:

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“So I have murdered Sybil Vane,” said Dorian Gray, half to himself, “murdered her as surely as if I had cut her little throat with a knife. Yet the roses are not less lovely for that.”

Related Characters: Dorian Gray (speaker), Sybil Vane
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

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“The girl never really lived and so she never really died.”

Related Characters: Lord Henry Wotton (speaker), Sybil Vane
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 9 Quotes

“One day, a fatal day I sometimes think, I determined to paint a wonderful portrait of you as you actually are, not in the costume of dead ages, but in your own dress and in your on time.”

Related Characters: Basil Hallward (speaker), Dorian Gray
Related Symbols: The Picture
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 10 Quotes

It was a poisonous book. The heavy odour of incense seemed to cling about its pages and trouble the brain.

Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 11 Quotes

And, certainly, to him Life itself was the first, the greatest, of the arts, and for it all the other arts seemed to be but a preparation.

Related Characters: Dorian Gray
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 14 Quotes

What was that loathsome red dew that gleamed, wet and glistening, on one of the hands, as though the canvas had sweated blood?

Related Characters: Dorian Gray
Related Symbols: White and Red, The Picture
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 15 Quotes

“She is very clever, too clever for a woman. She lacks the indefinable charm of weakness. It is the feet of clay that make the gold of the image precious.”

Related Characters: Lord Henry Wotton (speaker), The Duchess of Monmouth
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 16 Quotes

The coarse brawl, the loathsome den, the crude violence of disordered life, the very vileness of thief and outcast, were more vivid, in their intense actuality of impression, than all the gracious shapes of Art, the dreamy shadows of Song.

Related Characters: Dorian Gray
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 18 Quotes

If the tapestry did but tremble in the wind, he shook. The dead leaves that were blown against the leaded panes seemed to him like his own wasted resolutions and wild regrets.

Related Characters: Dorian Gray
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:

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“You would sacrifice anybody, Harry, for the sake of an epigram.”

Related Characters: Dorian Gray (speaker), Lord Henry Wotton
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 19 Quotes

“It is not in you Dorian to commit a murder. I am sorry if I hurt your vanity by saying so, but I assure you it is true. Crime belongs exclusively to the lower orders. I don’t blame them in the smallest degree. I should fancy that crime was to them what art is to us, simply a method of procuring extraordinary sensations.”

Related Characters: Lord Henry Wotton (speaker), Dorian Gray
Page Number: 203
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 20 Quotes

His beauty had been to him but a mask, his youth but a mockery. What was youth at best? A green, unripe time, a time of shallow moods and sickly thoughts.

Related Characters: Dorian Gray
Page Number: 210
Explanation and Analysis:

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