“Beauty will save the world.”
Journey Into Beauty
If art is beauty, my life is a journey into beauty. I awoke early into well-woven stories in C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. I discovered the wonder of song in the privilege of doing music myself, including on “my baby” 12-string guitar. To my ears, John Rutter’s Requiem and Bach’s Air On the G String fly with wings of peace. I have experienced the exhilarating excitement of acting in live theater. The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis is one of my favorite places on the planet. I am a-kid-in-a-candy-store when exploring endless imaginary worlds in creating table-top games. I love creativity and the arts.
I am grateful for teachers who encouraged me to discover this glorious dimension of God’s creation. I have been amazed by the classical wonders of my wife’s playing children’s suites on the piano. I fell in love with ballet and jazz dance through the wide-eyed wonder of my young daughter, her floating like snowflakes and dancing the Rhapsody In Blue into tears of joy, and her vision to dance and prophesy justice through the arts. I am learning of the exquisite craft of film-making through my son’s work as a film-engineer and his own documentaries on homeless persons, the courage of a young man with a “disability,” and healing miracles. I continually marvel at the potential of art and artists to transform human hearts, experience, and action in this world.
The Hope of Beauty
Reflections on human culture through the ages, attempting somehow to describe one of the most profound gifts in the world, often name art as beauty. When God named the creation “good,” God affirmed the wonder and glory of beauty as essential to the fabric of this world. Artistic displays of beauty began in the creative work of God’s words. Art’s potentials continue to blossom through the creative work of human hands. God is a creator, and so we, made in God’s image, are created to create.1 So in doing and experiencing art, we can discover that love for beauty is a deep dive into life. And when the human race fell into ruin, hatred, and pain, also at its own hands, it is no wonder that the goodness of art and beauty can also point us to redeeming hope.
Upon his Nobel prize, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn spoke this hope so vividly – all the more astounding given his suffering in Soviet prisons for his bold literary voice.2 He reflects, “One day Dostoevsky threw out the enigmatic remark: ‘Beauty will save the world’… [But] when in bloodthirsty history did beauty ever save anyone from anything?… However, the convincingness of a true work of art is completely irrefutable and it forces even an opposing heart to surrender… Those works of art which have… presented [truth] to us as a living force – they take hold of us, compel us… Dostoevsky’s remark… was not a careless phrase but a prophecy.”
He continues, “Art is not defiled by our efforts, …but… it gives to us a part of its secret inner light… [Some artists] gladly work as a humble apprentice beneath God’s heaven; …[their] responsibility… is more… than ever. But, in return, it is not [the artist] who has created this world, not he who directs it, there is no doubt as to its foundations; the artist has merely to be more keenly aware than others of the harmony of the world, of the beauty and ugliness of the human contribution to it, and to communicate this acutely to his fellow-men. And in misfortune, and even at the depths of existence – in destitution, in prison, in sickness – his sense of stable harmony never deserts him… Some things lead beyond words. 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…”
It was Prince Myskin who first affirmed, “Beauty will save the world”! – in Dostoevsky’s novel, The Idiot. People thought this prince was an idiot; he was an epileptic. In the big-picture-story of this truly noble person, as one reviewer observes,3 “He serves as a Christ-like figure, who stands apart for his innocence… Out of the mouth of this idiot comes a clearer vision of beauty and reality than those around him: ‘…when I recall and analyze the moment, it seems to have been one of harmony and beauty in the highest degree – an instant of deepest sensation, overflowing with unbounded joy and rapture, ecstatic devotion, and completest life…’ In… his suffering, he glimpsed… the heart of reality.”
…offer your bodies as living sacrifices…
this is your spiritual act of worship.
– Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 12 (NIV)
The Art of Dreaming
Some of my favorite memories of living art happened in my college’s simple black-box theater. There, we created artistic adventures of imagination, mourning, and hope. A poignant one-act play by friends wrestled with the threat of nuclear holocaust and called us to more powerful potentials of peace. We danced, acted, and sang renewed vision into ourselves and our fellow travelers. We called this wonderful space on earth the New World Theater.
I believe God calls us to craft endless forms of art that sing compassion and goodness into a broken world. Artistic expression can embody acts of ministry and service. Worshiping in spirit and truth can dance its voice of intercession and joy.4 We are free to create art to celebrate the profound beauty God invested in this creation. We can do art to awaken cold consciences to care for suffering and desperate hearts to hope for life. And as we seek God’s heart for and in the arts, we can bring people everywhere into the presence of the God of all good.
The arts are among the great wonders of this world. And for the longest time to come in the new creation… I plan to commission an original Vincent for my library and enjoy long talks while he paints my starry sunrise. And I dream of… Soccer!; doing live Shakespearean acting; strategy games ‘til dawn; cruising a yellow convertible on a coastal highway; singing, learning to compose, and playing with music in a grateful living band… So it will be (Amen). Art will always be a heart-song of this life.
1 Thanks to my daughter for this principle, and especially the phrase “created to create,” a perfect expression of love for the arts, God’s and ours.
2 Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Nobelprize.org, www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1970/solzhenitsyn-lecture.html, accessed May, 2018.
3 Jared Stoudt, Crisis Magazine: https://www.crisismagazine.com/2013/beauty-will-save, accessed May, 2018.
4 Thanks to my daughter also for promoting this potential.
Readers are encouraged to explore other posts in these series: Culture Contact and Created to Create (forthcoming).
God so loved the world… God is love!
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…
and the tree of life…
at the middle of the great street of the city…
and the leaves of the tree
are for the healing of the cultures.
John 3; 1 John 4; Revelation 21, 22