Why do dictators so often repress artists? Why do leaders wanting to take a nation to war, so often cut funding for the arts? Is it not a fact that before our leaders can makes us brutal and violent, they must first convince us to give up our hopes for something better? For us to forget our longing for beauty, and to choose brutal power instead, art must have fallen silent.
When Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, he wanted to use that stage to teach the importance of art in the struggle against mindless violence. He chose a phrase from Dostoevsky as his title, “Beauty will save the world:”
A great heart beats for the concerns and misfortunes of the world…And this was how I perceived and felt my own case that world literature was not an abstraction, not something…created by the scholars of literature, but was a certain common body and common spirit, a living unity of the heart, in which the growing spiritual unity of humanity was expressed. And state boundaries are still being reddened by blood and heated by high-tension wires and by bursts of fire from automatic weapons, and certain ministries of internal affairs still imagine that literature, too, is an internal affair of the countries at their disposal, and newspaper headlines still read: They do not have the right to interfere in our internal affairs.” And the only salvation of humanity lies in everyone concerning themselves with everything everywhere. (paraphrase)
There is no rational reason why we should care for others. Ethics is not born of intellectual calculations, but of feeling another’s pain, and recognizing that it is the same as one’s own. Art, as Picasso used to say, is not for decorating apartments. It is part of a larger struggle against all that is brutal and cruel. But just because such artistic compassion is vulnerable, does not mean that it is weak:
People will ask what literature can do in the face of the pitiless assault of open violence? Well, let us not forget that violence does not have it’s own separate existence and is, in fact, incapable of having it: is invariably interwoven with the lie…Once a people have proclaimed violence as their method, they must inexorably select the lie as their principle… (Violence) does not always nor invariably choke its victims; more often it demands of them only the oath of the lie, participation in the lie.
A person or a culture who chooses the path of power, must silence the testimony of the heart. Solzhenitsyn has recognized that an open heart must adopt no overriding creed or oath that would prevent it from feeling the pain of another living heart. We must not believe the lie that we are mere believers or patriots, first we must be human. This humanness requires tremendous courage.
Simple is the ordinary courageous human being’s act of not participating in the lie, of not supporting false actions. In battle with the lie art has always been victorious, always wins out, visibly, incontrovertibly for all! The lie can stand up and win out over much in the world- but not over art.
And that is why, my friends, I think that we are capable of helping the world in its white hot hour of trial. We must not reconcile ourselves to being defenseless and disarmed; we must not sink into a heedless, feckless life- but go out to the field of battle.
As you go out into this day of life, protect your heart from the lie of whatever culture you have been born into. You are not a mere soldier or business person, you are a living human heart. And the purpose of this day is not for you or your tribe to gain in power, but to serve this world by creating a more beautiful world for all.