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For what purpose have we been given this gift?

Written in Secret: an excerpt from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Nobel Lecture, presented to the Swedish Academy in 1972.

Archaeologists have not discovered stages of human existence so early that they were without art. Right back in the early morning twilights of mankind we received it from hands which we were too slow to discern. And we were too slow to ask: for what purpose have we been given this gift? What are we to do with it? And they were mistaken, and will always be mistaken, who prophesy that art will disintegrate, that it will outlive its forms and die. It is we who shall die – art will remain. And shall we comprehend, even on the day of our destruction, all its facets and all its possibilities? Not everything assumes a name. Some things lead beyond words. Art inflames even a frozen, darkened soul to a high spiritual experience. Through art we sometimes visited – dimly, briefly – by revelations such as cannot be produced by rational thinking. Like that little looking-glass from the fairy-tales: look into it and you will see – not yourself – but for one second, the Inaccessible, whither no man can ride, no man fly. And only the soul gives a groan…

Our Lady of Vladimir, tempera on panel, 104 by 69 centimetres (41 in × 27 in), painted about 1131 in Constantinople
Pre-historic cave art; stencilled hand. The art in the cave is dated between 13,000–9,000 BP
Study for Chimpanzee by Francis Bacon, 1957
Orange and Yellow by Mark Rothko, 1956
On White II by Wassily Kandinsky, 1923

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