The duality of beauty

We always have to choose: between good and evil, right or wrong, your heart or your mind.

Also beauty lives a dual identity; it is divided in between the body and the soul. Even in this case we are always led to think that we have to choose, that beauty has an ambivalent use to mean the goodness and the aesthetic. We believe that these two aspects cannot cohabit in the same person at the same time. We constantly think that behind a pretty face can not be hidden a soul even more extraordinary.

In the XIX century, the “Aesthetic movement”, referring to art, deliver just one message: beauty is superior to moral. Art, in that period, should be judged purely by its beauty rather than by any underlying moral ideas. The purpose of art was to have no purpose and so beauty. It was considered as something universal, objective, and an absolute truth that followed well-defined canons.

 Oscar Wilde, at that time, in “The picture of Dorian Gray” put beauty at the centre of his work, Dorian sold his soul for beauty.

“IF IT WERE I WHO WAS TO BE ALWAYS YOUNG, AND THE PICTURE THAT WAS TO GROW OLD! FOR THAT – FOR THAT – I WOULD GIVE EVERYTHING!…I WOULD GIVE MY SOUL FOR THAT”

So beauty and soul are here again in conflict, what Oscar Wilde’s book shows is the double face of the same medal. Dorian Gray is the most powerful example, he had the ability to have the best of both worlds, a respectable appearance and an unblemished look. But that’ s the point, his skin could be perfect as alabaster but just because the devil’s mark is inside him. His portrait is his devil’s claw, it’s the true reflection of his soul. Dorian muddies the boundary between art and life, aesthetics and ethics; the same portrait is made to serve a moral purpose, being transformed from an object of beauty into a vile record of guilty, something bestial.

This duality, and the idea of reflectivity recalls also another myth: the story of Narcissus. As Narcissus, Dorian’s obsession for physical beauty is seen as vanity, and even his actions and attempts at altruism are driven by desire to improve the appearance of his soul. Beauty here is again split in two, and what we see is the way he looks from the outside.  People just stop to admire his young and charming face because his inner part, the evil, is hidden in the portrait, far away from our eyes.

“THIS PORTRAIT WOULD BE TO HIM THE MOST MAGICAL OF MIRRORS”

Therefore beauty lies in a limbo, in a middle ground, divided in between body and soul, it is considered as an accessory, an empty casing. But can all this be true? Can beauty also be seen in the form of other virtues?

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