In the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde writes the following.
We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.
All art is quite useless.
After the publication of the book, a reader wrote to Wilde for a more thorough explanation. This was his response.
My Dear Sir,
Art is useless because its aim is simply to create a mood. It is not meant to instruct, or to influence action in any way. It is superbly sterile, and the note of its pleasure is sterility. If the contemplation of a work of art is followed by activity of any kind, the work is either of a very second-rate order, or the spectator has failed to realise the complete artistic impression.
A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. A flower blossoms for its own joy. We gain a moment of joy by looking at it. That is all that is to be said about our relations to flowers. Of course man may sell the flower, and so make it useful to him, but this has nothing to do with the flower. It is not part of its essence. It is accidental. It is a misuse. All this is I fear is very obscure. But the subject is a long one.
Some are offended by this and disagree. Not surprisingly, they are artists. Their opponents, being non-artists, often lack the finesse to articulate why they agree with Wilde’s sentiment. The debate is mind-numbing, because they’re arguing one thing (is art useless?) when they mean to argue another: What does it mean to be useful?
In this case, I think the most applicable definition comes from Dictionary.com.
- Of practical use, as for doing work; producing material results; supplying common needs.
For years I only wrote if it was useful. If a piece didn’t have potential to make money, I wouldn’t write it. Sometimes this worked, but most of the time it didn’t. I usually got burned out and quit before the end, because writing for others is exhausting when you never stop to write for yourself.
On the about page I say some of the things written here are useless. What I mean is, unlike every other website I have created, the sole purpose of this website is not to profit by exploiting a need.
Some of the content and articles provided here are intended to be useful. Others aim to create a mood; whatever you take away otherwise is secondary. I expend little effort drawing a line between the two.
In lesser words, this is my personal brand. Take what you like and leave what you don’t, but I hope you enjoy all of it as much as I enjoy writing it.
1Original text available at The Morgan Library & Museum.