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?