Saved by Beauty - Dostoevsky and America

Saved by Beauty Dostoevsky and America

A Visual Tribute to the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-2021)


The bicentenary celebration of the birth of the great Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-2021), considered one of the most outstanding writers of modern literature, has found the world in an increasing state of bewilderment. Some believe that the dynamic and open anthropology of this classic can help rectify an issue because it has the power to break the defensive armor of the modern ego and take us beyond its ideological constraints.

Having toured Greece and New York at The Sheen Center, the “Saved by Beauty” international art installation premiered in Boston at Maliotis Cultural Center through July and at the Russian Center in San Francisco through August-September. I am especially grateful to these three centers for hosting this important show. This exhibit is a tribute to literary legend Fyodor Dostoevsky in the two hundred years since his death. The pieces reflect aspects of the author’s life and struggles as well as characters and scenes from his famous novels and seek to awaken in us a sense of a deeper spiritual reality and a transformative beauty that, as Pope Benedict writing about Dostoevsky said, “unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond.”

I also want to acknowledge the essential roles of Professor Peter Bouteneff from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, Professor Michael Ossorguin from Fordham University, and Professor Timothy Patitsas from Hellenic College in Boston, who have contributed mightily to the dissemination of this Exhibition.

The paintings on the walls of galleries in Athens, New York, Boston, and San Francisco, show Dostoevsky, a man, dressed in flesh and blood, who lives, suffers, falls, and rises. At the same time, these paintings are a result of a “non-Euclidean” reading of that reality. Fyodor creates art or beauty by confessing what is in his soul, hence its astonishing persuasiveness.

We never seem to think of Dostoevsky’s characters absolutely in terms of themselves but rather in terms of the ideas they personify. Bakhtin said that some underestimate the deep personalism of Dostoyevsky, which is wrong. Because for Dostoevsky, there are no “ideas per se” or “ideas of anyone.” Although the ideas they display are essential, to appreciate Dostoevsky’s achievement, we must look at his characters as beings of interest in themselves and not just through them to what we think the author is using them to say. Dostoevsky presents even the “truth in itself” as embodied in Christ, as a person who enters into relationships with other persons.

The depth and contradictoriness of his heroes have made systematic psychological theories look shallow by comparison. Aware of the relativity of categories of morality in human life, this Russian writer was the first to show that the physical and psychological boundaries within the context of human diversity are neither so clear nor unyielding.

The painters of the visual group “OCHRA” have attempted to visually express Dostoevsky’s world of hopeless, dark heroes and others, positive heroes, who have experienced repentance. According to Fr Stamatis Skliris, “this exhibition shows many visual trends. Some works are more emotional and more romantic, or even darker. Some seek to describe scenes from Dostoyevsky’s novels; some are portraits of his heroes, others, more existential, penetrate the Dedicated streets of the psychic world, while some move into a spiritual bullet showing spiritual points and messages broadcasting the work of the great writer. The entire exhibition awakens our spiritual restoration and serves as a reminder of the first literary adventures of the psychological novel. It expresses nostalgia for the great literary genre called novel, which was popular in the author’s years, and nowadays it fades away.”

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky’s work, according to Fr. Stamatis, is like a submarine diving into the bottomless depths of the human soul and photographing its Dedalian landscapes to present them before our eyes as a realistic image of enigmatic existence, which, as long as there is, fights nonexistence.

Dostoevsky’s sense of evil and his love of freedom made him especially relevant in a century of world wars, mass murders, and totalitarian systems. His portrait suggests a person who lived the experience of seeing an abyss before him, and he looks at nothingness directly with his eyes. The great writer is characterized by eternal restlessness of spirit, and he insists (constrained by this effort) on a twofold feeling that we would call, “waiting for the arrival of nothingness.” It is as if he is above the abyss and watching his pens and notebooks flee, his table sliding, and his body, his house, above the abyss. He lived this feeling so intensely that it permeates his existence with the atmosphere of various scenes that he creates with his imagination in his work.

The gaze of the long-suffering, but blessed Dostoevsky crystallizes in that portrait. When we look at him and his eyes and then his torn coat, we can say: this man has gone through a storm, yet his eyes possess a sweetness that says: Thank God, we are saved! According to Metropolitan John Zizioulas, “Dostoevsky brings us to the edge of the abyss but does not leave us to fall into the abyss.” And Dostoevsky’s message to everyone is: “Compassion is the most important and, perhaps, the only law of existence for the whole of all mankind.” In his prodigious literary works, this Russian novelist and short-story writer refer to repentance and redemption as preconditions of becoming God-like.

As Vasileios Gondikakis (the archimandrite of Iveron Monastery on Mount Athos who learned Russian only to read Fyodor in the original) said, “if you seek what is honorable, what is good, you cannot read Dostoevsky and remain the same. You cannot read him, accept his message and then simply forget it. He becomes yours, and you his. You are entwined with each other in a deep, exalted, wide space, in the open space that belongs to everyone and where everyone fits in.”

Bishop Maxim of Western America

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