Oscar Wilde: Playwright and Aestheticism Extraordinaire

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“I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.”

-Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde was an Irish writer prominent in the Victorian era who is best known for his critically acclaimed plays, poems, and novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. He is also infamous for his relationship with Lord Alfred Dougles, the son of the powerful Marquess of Queensberry. The relationship ultimately led to his arrest and imprisonment in the l895.

Most notable for being a playwright, Wilde actually spent his early years writing poetry. He released a collection of his work entitled Poems at just 27 years old. The release was a modest critical success. Wilde was devoted fan of American poet Walt Whitman, whom he met during a lecture tour around the United States. Whitman described Wilde in the Philadelphia Press (The Toast).

“He seemed to me like a great big, splendid boy. He is so frank, and outspoken, and manly. I don’t see why such mocking things are written of him,” said Whitman.

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Walt Whitman (left) and Oscar Wilde (right)

Wilde faced heavy criticism for his flamboyant nature. He was a part of Victorian Aesthetic Movement, which rejected the rigid discipline of the Victorian era and emphasized the importance of art in everyday life. Wilde’s highly stylized dress, long hair, and outspoken manner helped increase his notoriety during his late career. He was an avid collector of expensive China, a common practice among those in the aesthetic movement. At one time was caricatured by George Du Maurier and F. C. Barnard after wearing a velvet vest and carrying around a flower (“Biography”).

In 1890, Wilde released his only full-length novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. The novel centers around a young, handsome man named Dorian Gray. After he has his portrait painted he finds he remains forever beautiful, while the painting ages and takes on all his corrosion. The main character becomes obsessed with a “poisonous” yellow book that leads him further down the road of corruption. Many believe this book is actually the French novel Against Nature by J.K. Huysmans. The novel tells the story of a man who rejects society. Following initial release of The Picture of Dorian Gray, the novel was heavily criticized for its homoeroticism, leading Wilde to release an expanded version of the text. The new version excluded passages that portrayed the male characters in a feminine manner (“Biography”).

In 1895, Wilde’s career came to an end when we was arrested after losing a libel case against the Marquess of Queensberry, who claimed he was having a homosexual affair with his son. The court ruled in favor of the Marquess, and Wilde was sentenced to two years imprisonment. Following his release, Wilde was broke and didn’t produce any more major works.

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Wilde and Sir Alfred Douglas

Oscar Wilde plays an interesting part in queer history. Though he never openly admitted to being gay, he actually contested the fact in court, many consider him to be one of the world’s great queer writers. Yet when most hear the name Oscar Wilde, they think of his great plays – The Importance of Being Earnest, Lady Windermere’s Fan, An Ideal Husband. Most don’t consider the potentially large impact his sexuality played in his life and works.

During the Victorian Era, prominent writers like Wilde would have been comparable to our pop culture icons today. They were heavily celebrated and equally scrutinized. Wilde and others who participated in aestheticism were not only breaking the mold of the rigid Victorian era, but shattering it.

“How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being.”

-Oscar Wilde

 

Sources:

“Biography.” Oscar Wilde. European Graduate School, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.

“Oscar Wilde.” Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2015. Web. 23 Apr. 2015.

“Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman Probably Had Sex Once.” The Toast. N.p., 17 Sept. 2013. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.

Sam Smith: Musician on the Rise

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“I want to thank the man who this record is about, who I fell in love with last year. Thank you so much for breaking my heart, because you got me four Grammys.”

– Sam Smith (via The Daily Beast)

Sam Smith is a 22-year-old British musician who earned his first number one single with the song “La La La” in May 2013. Since then, the musician has released an album, toured the world, and won four Grammy’s. Smith came out as gay in May 2014, following the release of his debut album In the Lonely Hour, which was the third best selling album of 2014 and won the 2015 Grammy for best pop vocal album. He was the first openly gay male to win the award.

In the Lonely Hour, which has achieved much critical and commercial success, was inspired by Smith’s past relationship with model and actor Jonathan Zeizel. While many view Smith’s music as a positive representation of queer relationships, many question the decisive exclusion of gendered pronouns within his songs. Pronouns like “he” and “his” are nearly entirely absent from is his work, leading some popular queer culture blogs and publications to criticize his work. In an interview, Smith stated that he if first and foremost a singer and that his sexuality should not define his identity as an artist.

“Sometimes people forget to even ask me about my songs, and the things I’m actually doing because they ask me about my sexuality – it shouldn’t be a talking point,” Smith said to Access Hollywood.

Many artists, who some deem as “icons” within queer culture such as Lady Gaga, are singing praises for Smith. Some point to the fact that many of his songs help eradicate stereotypes surrounding queer hook up culture, that have been perpetuated by the mass media. Films such as William Friedkin’s Cruising, which depicts gay underground sex culture in the 1970’s and 80’s, brought queer culture to the mainstream in a negative light. For many, films such like Cruising – which was directed by a straight man created a negative, amplified, and unrealistic image of queer culture. Simply by writing and performing hit songs that happen to be about Smith’s past relationship, he brings realistic gay relationships onto a mainstream scale.

“It was only until I started to be myself that the music started to flow and people started to listen.”

– Sam Smith (via The Daily Beast)

Though Smith’s songs don’t always depict positive relationships, in fact, one of his biggest hits, “I’m Not the Only One,” is about getting cheated on by his boyfriend. Yet these songs depict love, loss, and heartbreak — bringing realism to relationships that have been, and still are, stigmatized due to stereotypes.

Sam Smith is still a new artist, and nobody knows how his music will affect, if at all, mainstream ideas about queer culture. But having an astoundingly popular singer-songwriter, who also happens to be a gay man, is certainly a positive step forward.

The Fluidity of Gender: Sculpture

“With my androgynous forms I invite the viewer to seek diversity in unpredictable ways, to ‘try on’ new personal avatars and self definitions, knowing that every new experience changes the brain’s structure and inspires each of us toward a more authentic self.”

-Linda Stein

Activism and gender justice are the main concerns of sculptor Linda Stein’s “The Fluidity of Gender: Sculpture”. Stein was born in the Bronx, N.Y. in 1955. She earned her B.A. from Queens College, and her M.A. at Pratt Institute. She produced her first major artistic works entitled “Blades,” in the early 1990’s. “The Fluidity of Gender: Sculpture” is a touring sculpture exhibit that was created in 2007. Stein, who is a member of the Veteran’s Feminists of America, was inspired to create a work of sculpture that blended the femininity and masculinity.

“My goal as an artist is to use my art to transform social consciousness and promote activism for gender justice,” she said on her website.

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The exhibition has toured around the country since 2010, and will continue to move around the country until 2015. Stein hopes this will help increase awareness for body image identity, and provoke thought about gender roles.

The main goal of the sculpture is to blend traditional ideas of gender. In her colorful, rigid sculptures, Stein plays with strong and soft forms in order to create balance. The sculpture is meant to open the viewers up to new ideas of gender fluidity. Many of the sculptures incorporate superhero themes, to bring forth ideas of strength and powerful performance that are generally associated men. She then mixes these ideals with more feminine forms and colors, using interesting materials such as comic book pages and leather. The series rejects the idea that one’s sense of gender is static.

Gender identity has been widely discussed in the LGBTQA community. In her work “One is Not Born a Woman,” French Feminist Monique Wittig discusses ideas similar to Stein’s of gender fluidity.

“By assuming that there is a ‘natural’ division between women and men, we naturalize history, and we assume that ‘men’ and ‘women’ have always existed and will always exist.”

-Monique Wittig

The main inspiration for “The Fluidity of Gender: Sculpture” is the classic DC Comic book character, Wonder Woman. The character of wonder woman has been breaking gender barriers since her creation in the 1940’s. At the time her character was created, gender roles were rigid, but found new light during World War II when women were sent to the factories. Female independence and strength was a new idea, and at the time, created a new sense of gender fluidity. Stein draws on these gender-bending ideas for her series, as well as featuring images of the superhero herself.

Stein’s art embodies a complex concept with simplistic forms. By physically creating human bodies that resemble both of the biological physical sexes, Stein encourages to viewer to think more deeply about non-physical gender. In this sense, Stein uses art in order to promote activism for men, women, and anybody in between.