In "The Decay of Lying," Wilde has Cyril ask Vivian, "Nature follows the landscape painter, then, and takes her effects from him?" To which Vivian responds,
Certainly. Where, if not from the Impressionists, do we get those wonderful brown fogs that come creeping down our streets, blurring the gas-lamps and changing the houses into monstrous shadows? To whom, if not to them and their master, do we owe the lovely silver mists that brood over our river, and turn to faint forms of fading grace curved bridge and swaying barge? The extraordinary change that has taken place in the climate of London during the last ten years is entirely due to a particular school of Art. You smile. Consider the matter from a scientific or a metaphysical point of view, and you will find that I am right. For what is Nature? Nature is no great mother who has borne us. She is our creation.
Yes, she is our creation. Wilde admits that nature is a creation of man, yet proceeds with his mendacious and obnoxious essay blind to what he has just acknowledged: nature, as he defines it, is not real. Wilde has skewed and redefined nature to work to his advantage. For Wilde, nature is not trees and grass and the other things of John Muir, but rather perception and imagination. It's all in your mind. Perception, what we see in everyday life — like the London fog — exists because the Impressionists crafted it into being? Well, yeah, of course it does. The Impressionists created this "nature" and Sherlock Homes galvanized it. But so what? It's still not real nature. At some point an artist looked upon a foggy London street — and London is foggy far more than Wilde acknowledges — and painted a picture. That was art. Then someone — perhaps, as Wilde suggests, everyone — viewed that picture, and that created nature. Ok, but what was the original foggy street? It seems to me that the street has a far more actionable claim that it is nature and that Wilde's imposture, "nature," is merely human perception. In any case, "nature" and "art" are all still flowing from a larger being. Is Wilde just playing with words?
Last modified 14 March 2002