The Power of Art: How Beauty Can Save the World

Beauty will save the world

Fydor Dostoevsky

It seems awfully naïve, and perhaps a bit idealistic to ponder such a question – but in this article I want to explore if art and beauty save the world.  What did the existentialist writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky mean by such an ambiguous statement, and how can art make a difference in a world divided by conflict, strife and division?

It was when I was travelling in Europe, and sitting in one of the many breathtaking cathedrals, that I was filled with inner calm – a sense of peace and solitude swept over me. External events and the frivolous pursuits of the everyday world felt insignificant, so trivial. Existential worry and anxiety became drowned out by the beauty and wonder that was revealed to me in that moment. Nothing else mattered.

Great art, that which has been able to stand the test of time, points to the transcendent, the infinite, and the absolute.

 Art inflames even a frozen, darkened soul to a high spiritual experience. Through art we are sometimes visited – dimly, briefly – by revelations such as cannot be produced by rational thinking.

Like that little looking-glass from the fairy-tales: look into it and you will see – not yourself – but for one second, the Inaccessible, whither no man can ride, no man fly. And only the soul gives a groan

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Nobel Lecture

Throughout history, religions understood that the communal experience of the arts in practices of worship provided us with a glimpse of the sacred. Rituals of worship including art, music, and dance lured people to cherish the spiritual side of human existence. It drew us towards altered states of consciousness and higher truths, unveiling the illusive nature of material things and earthly pursuits. Connecting to something greater than ourselves, awe and beauty signal to us that there was something beyond the limited constructs of the human mind – a reality which words and language cannot fully describe.  

Beauty presents us with an ideal to strive towards. Further, it provides us with meaning, our ‘why’ and purpose to help us conquer the many uncertainties in life.  Coming to us through flashes of insight or intuition, beauty acts as a signpost which reveals the path towards the good life.

In the final analysis, it is the gift of aspiration as well as of hope.  

Photo by Julia Volk on Pexels.com

It is said that Dostoyevsky’s idea of beauty is characterized by the love of God. Jesus’ death and resurrection is one of the many reminders for humanity that redemption, joy and bliss can be found on the other side of suffering. The cross presents us with a symbol of hope, representing the idea that good will always transcend over evil. Our suffering is not in vain, but is a guide towards a higher purpose.  

This experience of awe, reverence and beauty in art and in life is of course is not exclusively limited to the domain of religion. Nietzsche, an atheist, was particularly fond of the idea that life itself can be treated as a work of art. Nietzsche thought of humans as inherently creative beings, who wish to assert their individuality by bringing something original and authentic into existence.

Art presents us with the opportunity us to rise above hardship by using difficult experiences as inspiration and raw materials in working towards a more wholesome meaningful life. We turn chaos into order and the apparent randomness of our existence into wonderful harmony. Think of the many great songs that reflect on the common experiences of sorrow, heartbreak or grief.  

Through this catharsis we realize we are connected through a common bond with the rest of humanity as we share those same feelings and emotions with others. We hear the same story over and over again just with different words. 

Through the pursuit of beauty we shape the world as a home, and in doing so we both amplify our joys and find consolation for our sorrows.

Roger Scruton

Within this enduring beauty and truth that is illuminated in great art, we can arrive at a better understanding of citizens from different cultures and traditions. Art offers us portals into the worlds of those who are seemingly different from us. Rather than acting in hesitancy or suspicion, we can come towards greater empathy and compassion.

For we all have the same drives to experience beauty, moments of awe and wonder in which our consciousness transforms from ‘me’ to ‘we’ or from ‘I’ to ‘us’. For a brief period, selfish egotism all but vanishes, and new possibilities arrive. A new door opens for us all.

In beauty, and through beauty we are united as one.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever; its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness

John Keats, Endymion
Image Source

Featured Image Source

13 thoughts on “The Power of Art: How Beauty Can Save the World

  1. It is difficult to accept that beauty will save the world, since everyone’s views of it is different. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is certainly true. Any piece of art can be interpreted in different ways, and even considered by some not to be art at all. So, I will have to disagree with Dostoevsky. Beauty will not save the world, but love will.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this post. An interesting take – the idea of art helping to save the world. Art often inspires others to create. To make something better or more beautiful. It stand to reason that we could look at it as something that helps save us, if not the world. Really great post. Thank you making think. 🙏

    Like

      1. Thanks for sharing. I’ll be sure to give it a watch. I’m a strong believer in thinking as a collective. I believe it would solve so many of our problem. Thanks again Andrew. 🙏

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I grew up in Chicago, Illinois (and then the suburbs) in the 1970s and 1980s. The architectural style back then was uniformly modernist, and uniformly dull. Buildings were boxes of brick, metal, and/or glass. Houses were cookie cutter. There were hardly any colors on our buildings other than brown or gray. The message was all around you: There is no use in pursuing beauty. Our lives are made for work, consumption, and comfort, but that is it. It is no wonder I was frequently depressed; others used alcohol, drugs, and/or sex to escape. The style of architecture started to change in the 1990s, thank goodness. But the remnants are still around us and it is still striking how different the U.S. is from other countries that employ intricate styles and vivid colors in their buildings. I’m not sure that beauty can save the world, but it can certainly make us happier.

    Like

    1. Thank you for the comment. Another inspiration for exploring this topic was a documentary by Roger Scruton for the BBC on Beauty : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHw4MMEnmpc

      He explores much of what you have said here, namely that in the modern era we pursued efficiency and standardization at the cost of beauty. Furter, the notion that art is something purely subjective has come to influence our culture – leading us to place value on ‘ugliness’.

      This of course, ties into the whole postmodernism debate. Who are we to say that one piece of art is any better than the other?

      In my opinion, however, I do think we can place somethings in higher standing than others and objevtive things such as ‘Truth’ , ‘Beauty’ and ‘Goodness’ do exist, and we can come towards these rational discussion and dialogue.

      Perhaps the possibility of beauty saving the world is a bit ambitious and ignorant. Nonetheless I do think it can give us hope, and that hope can go a long way.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to Jason Youngman Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s