Let’s find out the meaning of no artist is ever morbid, a line taken from the preface of “The Picture Of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde.
The full aphorism is:
No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.
When we say a person is morbid, it means he/she has an depraved obsession in repulsive things, particularly death and disease.
I think what Oscar Wilde was saying is, there is no artist who is at any time (ever) has an abnormal and unhealthy fascination with disturbing and unpleasant subjects.
In fact, Wilde had clearly explained this aphorism in his 1891 essay “The Soul of Man Under Socialism“.
The public are all morbid, because the public can never find expression for anything. The artist is never morbid. He expresses everything. He stands outside his subject, and through its medium produces incomparable and artistic effects. To call an artist morbid because he deals with morbidity as his subject-matter is as silly as if one called Shakespeare mad because he wrote ‘King Lear.’ source
For instance writer Edgar Allen Poe who is famous for dark horror stories, he also wrote science fictions, mysteries, adventure stories, scientific essays, and a book about seashells titled “The Conchologist’s First Book“.
No Artist Is Ever Morbid Meaning
The question is why did Oscar Wilde include this aphorism in the preface of the book?
When the book was fist published, it was severely criticized.
The preface was to address the criticisms and defend the reputation of his novel.
The critics used words such as ‘immoral,’ ‘unintelligible,’ ‘exotic,’ ‘unhealthy’ and even ‘morbid’.
The reason for called it morbid, is because the key theme of the story “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is mortality.
Here are two quotes extracted from the book:
When your youth goes, your beauty will go with it, and then you will suddenly discover that there are no triumphs left for you, or have to content yourself with those mean triumphs that the memory of your past will make more bitter than defeats source
Every month as it wanes brings you nearer to something dreadful. Time is jealous of you, and wars against your lilies and your roses. You will become sallow, and hollow-cheeked, and dull-eyed. You will suffer horribly…source
In the novel, the protagonist Dorian is so afraid of aging, to the extent of selling his soul to the devil, so to speak.
It is not just Dorian’s fear of losing his youthful look.
Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde also linked beauty and death together in the story.
The part where Dorian watches Sybil Vane dies onstage and be alive backstage.
This is where it shows art makes her immortal each and every night.
Incidentally, we know great artists are known for taking their life, as well as their work to the extreme; to the point of morbidity and insanity.
By the way, the connection between creativity and mental illness has been discussed and studied by psychologists and other researchers for centuries.