Beauty Will Save the World!
19th century Russian author and philosopher Fyodor Dostoevsky, arguably most famous for his novels Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamzov, stated: "Mankind... can live without science, without bread, and it only cannot live without beauty, for then there would be nothing at all to do in the world! The whole secret is here, the whole of history is here. Science itself would not stand for a minute without beauty”.
“Man is hungry for beauty; there is a void.” ~Oscar Wilde
'Beauty will save the world'. Such an outlandish and perhaps prophetic claim comes from Dostoevsky’s novel, The Idiot, attributed to the main character, Prince Myskin. Jared Staudt for Crisis Magazine writes that the prince "serves as a Christ-like figure standing apart for his innocence and even naiveté. Out of the mouth of this idiot comes a clearer vision of beauty and reality than those around him..." Beauty will save the world. This simple but bold declaration goes "from the mouth of an idiot to the pen of a pope" says Staudt.
“It is the prerogative and charm of beauty to win hearts.” ~Miguel de Cervantes
Pope John Paul II wrote in his 1999 Letter to Artists: "People of today and tomorrow need this enthusiasm if they are to meet and master the crucial challenges which stand before us. Thanks to this enthusiasm, humanity, every time it loses its way, will be able to lift itself up and set out again on the right path. In this sense it has been said with profound insight that 'beauty will save the world'.
Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes in his 17th century novel Don Quixote says that “It is the prerogative and charm of beauty to win hearts.” 'Beauty' is a concept that has been studied, discussed, explored, imagined, spoken of, written of, and expanded upon for centuries by academic scholars, philosophers, theologians, artists, and mystics.19th century Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde declared that “Man is hungry for beauty; there is a void.” 'Beauty' is not referring of course to mere 'prettiness', artistic or aesthetic beauty, but to the deeper wonders, joys, and pleasures of life that bring us more in touch with the Spirit, more in touch with the Divine, and more in touch with one another. This 'beauty' is all the things that make life itself beautiful, those very things that give Life. This 'beauty' is transcendent. In his book Ruthless Trust, Franciscan priest Brennan Manning writes “Those who look beyond the literal... dare us to dream of our homeland, where eye has not seen, neither has ear heard, nor has the imagination conceived of the beauty that awaits us.”
Authentic beauty, however, unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond. ~Pope Benedict XVI
John Paul II's Vatican successor Pope Benedict XVI in his 2009 meeting with artists in the Sistine Chapel, elaborated further on what this 'beauty' that will save the world is and is not: "Too often, though, the beauty that is thrust upon us is illusory and deceitful, superficial and blinding, leaving the onlooker dazed; instead of bringing him out of himself and opening him up to horizons of true freedom as it draws him aloft, it imprisons him within himself and further enslaves him, depriving him of hope and joy…. Authentic beauty, however, unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond. If we acknowledge that beauty touches us intimately, that it wounds us, that it opens our eyes, then we rediscover the joy of seeing, of being able to grasp the profound meaning of our existence.”
If 'beauty' will save the world though, what's taking it so long, and what stands in its way? Why is there so much ugliness in the world, despite the appeal of 'beauty'?
This is Part 1 of a multi-part blog series about 'beauty'.