2007 Abstracts Stage 2

Dorian Gray: Destroyed by Aestheticism

Robert Challens, 2007, Stage 2

The basic aim of my project is to explore the fundamental themes of both aesthetic and ethical lives. What does drive us to make decisions and what should drive us to make decisions; in other words what sort of a life should we live? Through the exploration into my territory “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde, I identified the key concept of aestheticism and observed the character’s downfall due to his choice of life. This led me to explore the life of the aesthete in comparison with the ethical in the context of existentialism. The existentialists believed that it is the choices that we make as individuals on how we live our lives that provides the central sense of meaning to our existence. In particular I chose to look at Kierkegaard and more specifically at his work “Either/Or.” Kierkegaard closely explores the relationship between the aesthetic life; where the individual is consumed by beauty and the fulfilment of the senses, and the ethical; where the individual bases decisions on commitment and rational thought. He shows that the aesthete is ultimately doomed to a life of despair due to the limited nature of such a life. Those that live within the ethical stage of life will on the other hand achieve happiness in balancing aesthetical values with ethical conduct and responsibility. The final thought on my project brings these values of aesthetics and ethics into modern society in order to observe the concepts in relation to today’s generation. It seems that the majority of today’s youth are being consumed by the media and having aesthetical values forced upon them. Magazines are primarily concerned with looks and bombard the senses with images telling the reader how to think of themselves and others. Little is done to promote ethical values in this modern age and as this worsens future generations could suffer.

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