Art and Longing

In Terry Pratchett’s excellent book Wyrd Sisters, Death (you know– robe, scythe, grins all the time) wanders onto the backstage of a theater during a performance. I found his reflections fascinating:

There was something here, he thought, that nearly belonged to the gods. Humans had built a world inside the world, which reflected it in pretty much the same way as a drop of water reflects the landscape. And yet… and yet… Inside this little world they had taken pains to put all the things you might think they would want to escape from—hatred, fear, tyranny, and so forth. Death was intrigued. They thought they wanted to be taken out of themselves, and every art humans dreamt up took them further in. He was fascinated.

Art does this, on every level. Have you ever noticed? When was the last time you read a book or watched a movie where nothing bad happened, no tragedy, no death, no pain? Even comedies revolve around some kind of mishap. Art holds up a mirror to life, sure– but why? You’d think that art and media would be the perfect getaway from pain, but they always takes us deeper in.

I think this reflects our desire to understand pain and our longing for a savior on a fundamental level. We don’t create utopian fantasies because as good as the thought of paradise is, there’s something that appeals to us more. We don’t want a perfect world; we want to be redeemed out of a broken one. You can disagree with me, but there must be some reason why, when we create, we take all of our nightmares and sorrows and weave them into our art.

Someone has said that good art always fills the viewer with a sense of longing. With our art so full of pain, what are we longing for?

One thought on “Art and Longing

  1. MichelleM

    Perhaps longing to be understood or for someone to relate to how we feel. I’m horrible with words but give me a paintbrush and I can show you instead of struggle to find the right words. It’s like that Excedrine commercial. A daughter longs for her mother to know what she has been going through with her migraines. Excedrine makes a way for the mother to experience it. I get migraines so I’m familiar with the daughter’s symptoms. When you tell someone you lose your normal vision they are sympathetic but don’t completely get it, even if they say they do. When that person can experience that vision loss firsthand they are empathetic and understand. There is that sense of comfort that you are no longer weak and making excuses when you say you have to go lay down because someone has now walked in your shoes and knows what you are going through.
    I could attempt to tell someone all day long what’s going on in my head and it will go in one ear and out the other, but if I can visually create it and hang it on a wall, then somehow it becomes real.
    In a world full of people not afraid to lie, we have a hard time believing something we can’t see.

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