I remember hearing that Dostoevsky, in his book The Idiot, has a character utter the expression, “Beauty will save the world.” I immediately liked this expression, if for no other reason than hoping it might be true.
Years later, I finally got around to read The Idiot. I kept waiting with anticipation for the famous line to appear on the pages. Everyone always says that the main character, Prince Myshkin, utters this statement, as if it were a climactic proclamation. To my astonishment, the phrase was finally uttered in a very unnoticeable way. It arrived in the book as second hand information, tacked onto a dying conversation. A group is discussing the existence of God, and they ask what could give life meaning, if God did not exist. And one character says (to Myshkin) didn’t you say that beauty will save the world.
I don’t know whether beauty can actually save the world. However, beauty demands to be observed and appreciated. Things that are supremely beautiful unite people as they stand in awe. So, beauty brings people together.
Beauty also enables people to break through the mundane facets of existence. People go to work, sit at a desk, greet their families, go to bed, and do it again and again. Yet beauty helps us realize the possible, and maybe catch a glimpse of what lies beyond the simulacra. So, beauty gives us hope.
Beauty unites us and gives hope. Whether or not beauty saves the world from everything, it certainly puts forth a tenacious (albeit sometimes subtle) effort.
For some interesting commentary on Dostoevsky’s famous line, see an excerpt from Solzhenitsyn’s Nobel Lecture.