Beauty Will Save The World
“Man can live without science; he can live without bread, but without beauty he could no longer live, because there would no longer be anything to do to the world. The whole secret is here; the whole of history is here.”
There is so much ugliness in the world. The box-shaped buildings of the modern city; the pollution that trails in the wake of both industry and poverty; the sordidness of so much of our advertising and politics. In the face of such an onslaught, art can get reduced to the purely functional, a mere commodity.
Russian writer and genius, Fyodor Dostoevsky, saw something different.
For him, it is beauty which saves the world.
What kind of beauty could possibly have such power?
Plato believed that the point of beauty was to shock us into an enthusiasm that leads us to contemplate our divine origins. Aristotle taught that the beauty of art stems from an impulse deep within our nature, an impulse to imitate what we see around us so as to note its order and harmony. Think here of the proverbial cave-man working on his watercolours depicting the deer-hunt upon the walls of his home.
It’s interesting to note, therefore, how much of modern art is not imitative, or symbolic of harmony, but deliberately ugly, or purely based on some kind of ‘conceptual message’, as opposed to the desire to create a beautiful form from matter, as my wife, Lara Waldburger, has done below (she also painted the feature image above):
I wonder then if there is any connection between so much of the strange art we celebrate today and the sense of dis-ease we feel in our world? There seems to be a kind of loss between the watercolours of the cave-man and a lot of what we house in our finest galleries and museums.
I think this is what Dostoevsky meant when he wrote that ‘the whole of history’ can be found within beauty.
When we create beauty, we are participating in some higher vision of the world, seeing with it toward some other reality shining through it.
But if we don’t want the burdens of that higher vision, we can sink into our nightmares:
Beauty is, therefore, a kind of battlefield, and art is war.
Perhaps one way of winning the war is to remember the dignity we all associate with the human form, the human body:
In a world of constant argument and disagreement, in which we all fight about what is true and good, beauty and true art, in which matter is shaped according to its nature and the vision of an artist, can create a luminosity that gives us hope.