Dostoyevsky once said that beauty will save the world. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn kind of agreed with him in his 1970 Nobel Lecture. (that’s just an excerpt but it’s so worth reading.)
Beauty will save the world.
But what exactly is beauty? How can you define it?
I believe beauty is not just an abstract notion, but an experience. Impossible to define, it can just be felt.
What I find to be truly fascinating about “beauty,” and not just in the world of arts, but in our day to day lives, is that it doesn’t necessarily provide answers or raise questions. When we say about a painting being beautiful, or a person, a flower, a house, a city, a monument, we talk about something we feel. It’s irrational, illogical, and, quite frankly, I believe that our capacity to feel or experience beauty is the very foundation of your humanity; the most primordial aspect of what it means to be human.
I know a lot of artists who say they make art because they want to create something beautiful. They feel the urge to create beauty, to be able to project it onto a canvas where there was nothing, to put some words together, to give a rock a different shape, and so on.
Now for the big question: how can beauty actually save the world?
Solzhenitsyn tried to answer this question in his lecture, and in a way, I agree with him, but I also believe there’s also a simpler answer: beauty brings the best in us, because experiencing it is never meaningless.
Beauty itself does not provide answers, or raise questions, it’s not a call for action, it’s not a plea. It just is. It can last forever, or just a few minutes, like a beautiful song. Or a sunset. And not only do we derive pleasure, but we also construct meaning from the experience.
Based on our own ideals and beliefs and set of skills, we absorb beauty and we want to do something with it. It’s rarely a passive experience. We see a beautiful painting, and we may feel the urge to make something just as beautiful. Or simply tell everyone we know about it. Or photograph it. Or just cry.
For whatever reason (or for no reason at all) beauty fills our minds and souls with emotions and thoughts. And in that moment of simple contemplation, we feel as if all of life’s questions have been answered. Pointless worries and petty frustrations are discarded. Time seems to stop, and all that’s greedy and dark and vile about our humanity evaporates.
And in that moment, no matter how long it lasts, we catch a glimpse of our own greatness.