The Wonderful Ache of Beauty (Why We Need Art)

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.
–Helen Keller

I was just minding my own business. It was an ordinary Tuesday morning. Then I watched this. And everything changed.

Ache of Beauty Photo
Photo Credit: Guillermo Salinas via Compfight cc

I’ve heard that song before, heard those words before, even seen the original artists sing it live. But there was something about this time, that song sung that way, that left me undone. It made me realize how much I had been rushing.

The song caught me off guard and nearly brought me to tears. I wasn’t expecting that, which is a problem. We tend to the beautiful things in life as privileges, indulgences. But what if they were anything but that?

What if art was essential?

Recently on the The Walking Dead, a character found a priceless Caravaggio painting abandoned on the street, as if it were trash. “It doesn’t have a place anymore,” he lamented. “Art isn’t about survival. It’s about transcendence. Being more than animals, rising above.”

“We can’t do that anymore?” the young Beth asked.

“I don’t know.”

And the question just lingered, unresolved till the end of the episode.

Art arrests us

It’s an important consideration: Is there any room in this world, in our lives, for beauty? Or have we maximized every moment, scheduling and programming ourselves down to the last drop?

There is something powerful about art, something that captures our attention and causes us to stop in our tracks. This is why I love music and travel and long walks in October. These activities are all so beautifully inconvenient and inefficient.

Maybe the best moments in our lives aren’t meant to be so cut and dried. Maybe the mess is beautiful.

Have you ever been swept up in a song or taken in by the beauty of the outdoors?

Has someone you love captured your heart at a certain point, and it felt like they wouldn’t let go?

Do you remember what that felt like?

My guess is, in a word, you felt… alive. There was maybe even an ache to it.

Art reminds us of our humanity

“I remember that it hurt, looking at her,” I heard a lovesick boy say in a movie once. Maybe love’s like that. Maybe beauty was meant to arrest us. But, as C.S. Lewis wrote, maybe that was just the beginning:

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing…

For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

Art, it seems, is a reminder of who we really are, or perhaps who we ought to be. And life, I think, is what we find when we slow down and allow the beauty to envelop us. When we embrace what is right in front of us and believe it’s worth our attention.

But in order to do this, in order to find the life we all want, we must be stopped, thwarted from our petty pursuits and led down a nobler path.

There is something inspiring about art, something invigorating in a piece of music that so perfectly slays you. We all want to be found in those moments that steal us away from the urgent and allow us to get lost in the so-very-neglected-but-important.

These moments, though, don’t just happen. We have to invite them. We have to make room for them, even if it’s only for three minutes while watching a video on YouTube. In the end, they’re worth whatever sacrifices we have to make.

Have you ever experienced art that made you ache? Share in the comments.

72 thoughts on “The Wonderful Ache of Beauty (Why We Need Art)

  1. I have experienced art that makes me ache. It tends to be a song for me or a black and white moody photo. Wonderful post. Truly made me love and appreciate being an artist.

  2. Being a Cosmetology Instructor, I get the opportunity to go to our local art museum, on field trips. I’m always amazed at how creative some people are. Never gets old. Otherwise, certain songs always hit my emotions.

  3. God’s beauty does that to us everyday – if we let it in. If we stop to notice the delicate petals of a flower, a gentle wind caressing new leaves or the sharpness of a sudden cool winter breeze on our cheek. Let us not forget God, the artist who can reach our soul every moment of every single day. If only we let Him. Now, I will go watch that video. Thank you for the reminder.

  4. I love this post and total agree! Songs can be so moving, and also they attach to memories which can make them more powerful. The song, “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol was popular the summer my mom died, and I remember a particularly hard day when we donated her van (she had multiples sclerosis) and I stood in the empty driveway with my husband. He took out two bikes and insisted we ride around. We started singing the song together and for the first time in days I smiled and felt joy mixed in with my grief.

    The beauty and power of music in the face of heartache.

  5. I’ve been following you for about 18 months now Jeff and this is my favorite blog you’ve ever written. Strategy is great, but this speaks to my heart.

  6. Naturally as a musician, music does this to be a lot. It’s so sad that too many of us are so QUICK to go for the shock and awe just to gets people’s EYES to look our way instead of SLOWING down and allowing something more meaningful to shine that gets people’s HEARTS to look for something greater than us all.

  7. Sorry for the length, but I wrote a piece recently on the ache of the loss of beauty in our home.

    Ecclesiastes 3:11 NKJV
    He has made everything beautiful in its
    time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can
    find out the work that God does from beginning to end.

    Psalm 90:17 NKJV
    And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands for us;
    Yes, establish the work of our hands.

    I have purposely not written a lot, or in detail, about my late wife Kim, who passed away eighteen months ago at the relatively young age of 47. However, I want to mention
    something about her today to make a greater point to those of us left behind.

    I have been increasingly aware lately of a widening void in our home. That void has been the lack of beauty. It is palpable. My six children have noticed it as well, though they could not define it. It is directly correlated to Kim leaving us for glory. Is it because she was
    the prettiest person in our home? She was, but that isn’t it.

    I became aware of it when I saw a picture that a dear and special friend took of her childrens’ prepared lunchboxes for school, taken at 6 am. I looked at the effort and care that went into making them just so- nutritious and appetizing, desiring to make them economically, yet a feast at the same time. And I wept. For I got a glimpse of the beauty
    that had left our home.

    For Kim labored daily to make our home special and glorifying to God. She was not the perfect housekeeper, a gifted decorator, or the most efficient in how she organized or did
    things. But her work was infused and overwhelming with love, beauty, and a desire to please God and to please me. And in that, she achieved great success. and her years of loving, selfless labor only made her more beautiful to me.

    I tell you these things not as a memorial to Kim, though. I tell you this because I see beauty and appeal being warped in our day. For all the appeal of a physically attractive woman
    (which I am not denying), it pales in comparison to the beauty of a woman who has been made beautiful by God, as she grows in love, and as she labors at whatever the Lord has put in front of her. We are all beautiful because we were made that way by our heavenly Father, and we are being made more beautiful as we are being sanctified by Him and
    reflect His perfect beauty.

    If you feel diminished by age, or ruined by harsh circumstance, know that you are still beautiful and desirable, as you joyfully labor in love at the work that God has laid
    (or will lay) in front of you.

    1. Jay,
      Your words caused tears to spill from me. Your words that describe the beauty of your wife are art. I felt my heart fill with many emotions – sorrow, loss, yet a filling of love that you have for this amazing woman you were so fortunate to have in your life. Thank you for sharing this small piece of her.

    2. Jay, that was so beautiful and yes your writing is art. Surely Kim is smiling down on you and your children. In your own sorrow you lifted me up by what you’ve written. May you and yours have peace and love. Thank you for your words.

      1. You are welcome. Glad it was an encouragement to you, as your kind words were an encouragement to me!

  8. I’ve been following your blog for seven months now and I loved this post so much that I had to write my first comment. Thank you for this!!!

  9. Your writing captured me so much I kept reading until the end, unaware of the song you chose for this particular post. I was simply too engrossed to click on the link. So I kept reading, understanding what you meant, relating to it, and remembering my own lovesick moments and October hikes. And then I got to the bottom. I realized which song you picked and my heart nearly stopped. There’s something haunting and beautiful about it. It’s painfully aware of ends and beginnings, and of the transient nature of life, as I believe much of beautiful art is. These moments capture us because they’ll end, and it’s sadly beautiful. I was just so emotional reading your post I simply had to chime in and thank you for the lovely read!

  10. You mentioned the outdoors. Yes, always the outdoors. I am a trail runner and a writer, and there are times I am running though a forest or the countryside, immersed in sweat, ideas and verse streaming through my consciousness, when I am suddenly arrested by a landscape, a cliff or mountain that takes my breath away. I sometimes raise my hands or bow at the beauty of creation, the ultimate creation, the greatest artist of all. I’ve seen it in the Rockies, the Alps, Big Sur, but also a forest in New Jersey and countywide in Pennsylvania. There is 2,000 miles of art on the Appalachian Trail.

  11. An excellent post Jeff, asking a fundamental question. Yes, I believe art and beauty are absolutely important, endowing our lives with richness and giving us a glimpse of a greater power!

  12. This is me saying “thank you.”
    Taking just a moment to stop and say you thank you for this art.
    I shared this with a friend via an upcoming popular social network called Facebook.
    After just having part of my daily devotional time and them checking my email and reading this post, this art struck me. It made me think of the importance of whatever our individual art is and how it needs to be dispersed.
    When you mentioned The Walking Dead and the art they found, I thought how there are some things happening now, some in “my control” and some stuff with close friends that is not directly in my control. Without going into that stuff here, I found it intriguing that this stuff came to mind while reading this. Maybe it is how art can cut through so much. It is the water that still gets through the sand.
    As you pointed out, a song or a painting or something can break through much.
    Thank thee again.

  13. Thank you. I’d never heard that song before. That might be shocking I know. 🙂 But I was so struck by the simple beauty and the words. My heart sang! Yes, we need our lives to be interrupted by beauty and when we allow that interruption, I believe we experience soul restoration. Again, thank you for this post. I needed the reminder….again.

  14. This post was perfectly timed for me. I write sci fi. Not the violent fighting with ugly aliens kind, but the man fighting against a new planet and dealing with difficult people kind. (Though I do tend to have giant spider type creatures to fight.) But the focus is the character’s growth.

    Lately have been discouraged and wondering if I am wasting my time. Wondered if I should give up fiction and focus on how-to books. This post is my answer. What I do is art. Not high art, but art, nonetheless. Therefore, it has value and I will keep writing.

  15. Yes, when I read God’s word. Yes, when I read your art. Yes, I have when I experience a word from heaven. Yes.

  16. Yes, art is essential. It’s the way we our souls resonate with life. It nourishes those things in our heart that are impossible to communicate otherwise. I think it is the essence of us. As C.S. Lewis (I think?) said, we are spirits, we have a body. Art is spirit talk.

  17. Beautifully written, Jeff, and consistent with the theme of your book “The In-Between.” Between those major moments of our lives we can slow down and truly appreciate a painting, a long walk or movie. Yes, such “indulgences” may feel unproductive, but perhaps they are the most productive things we should be doing!

  18. Outside in the fresh breathe-it-in-deeply air. The moment that comes to mind is a rare night–time escape, a walk with my guy, kids tucked in bed, so much change and uncertainty surrounding us, and we heard, across the bay, sounds lifting to our ears. An orchestra playing the strong, dramatic, touching music of Les Mis. One More Day… There was power and surprise that sent knock-of-your-feet senses to both of us. Stopping us. Turning us toward one another in embrace and in tears. One More Day… [Thanks for the reflect the song and reminder that we are made to create and soak in the created].

  19. Ahhh…

    The sehnsucht hungers. Awakened by great art, nutty coffee., bread in the oven…the thrill of a budding romance, bubble-up joy, and great, great grief. I know too well the feelings of my art approaching but never quite nearing my grand intent. I know the longing and leaning and the reaching…

    The beautiful ache.

    Thank you for putting this so beautifuly.

  20. Without art, what’s the point of even getting of out bed in the morning?

    I am from Ireland, where Glen Hansard is from. When he won the Oscar, one of the things he said in his speech was “Make Art”. The version you shared is particularly haunting.

    Great post Jeff (particularly the headline).

  21. Jeff, there are those things we do—unloading the groceries, making sure the heat’s not on too high, fussing with socks—and then there are the things that sweep us up from the trivial, that remind us of eternal connections, the things for which we sometimes have no words except “wow!”

    Art is essential; it make fussing with the socks worth it.

    Lovely writing today. Thank you.

  22. Art is an expression of the soul and the soul responds to art.

    I find my soul responds to art in many forms and often my emotional response catches me off guard. When this occurs, I grasp the moment and allow myself to feel it everywhere. Viewing art at the Louvre. Listening to a a soulful song. These are some of the most beautiful moments I have experienced.

    Thank you for this lovely moment.

  23. That Helen Keller quote is one of my favorites. Yes, I have experienced many times when art has made me ache. Certain books, movies, songs…and not just art but certain people who left a beautiful mark in my life…but I guess people (creation) are the ultimate form of art. I’m reminded of that scene in Shawshank Redemption when Red talks about missing his friend Andy. He has an ache and it’s because that beauty and that light is no longer in his life.

  24. Yes, I’m experiencing art that makes me ache almost everyday. Thank you, Jeff, for putting words to my heart’s thoughts. I’m a part of a newly launched community connecting faith and creativity – We are offering a weekly bible study and art response. Our members are creating and sharing the most beautiful art.
    Bless you for speaking words of truth.

  25. My wife & I just finished watching “Shadows In The Sun” on Netflix. We’d not heard of it before, so we were a bit trepidatious; all we knew was it had a writing theme and it took place in Tuscany.

    There is a scene where on character challenges the other to describe the sunset they are watching: That is art, both the sunset and the description.

    We were wonderfully surprised and I found myself through out it thinking of my own writing (or lack thereof, as the case more often is) and in particular of you, Jeff. In fact there is a line in the movie that I’m certain Jeff wrote: I’ll challenge you to a) watch the movie; b) comment as to what line I’m talking about.

  26. Merci Jeff! Very welcoming post this morning for me. Art can show many faces and can be performed in many unexpected ways. Being in a State of Grace while creating something. anything, it’s the most unforgettable feeling, a fragile moment of magic.

  27. I think this is one of my favorite posts Jeff! I experience art as I gaze at the most remarkable view of the Rocky Mountains I am blessed to see everyday as I drive to “work.”

  28. Thanks Jeff, I deal with stress by making art and beauty my personal pit stop, one that I go to as often as needed, your post reaffirms that our oversheduled lives should be constantly disrupted by art

    1. “your post reaffirms that our oversheduled lives should be constantly disrupted by art”

      Love that quote 🙂

  29. There is a museum in Metz which is the dependance of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. I went to visit it one day with some friends. And inside there was a painting I didn’t know and it is not very famous. But it hit me hard. I just stood there crying. It is in moments like these that living seems to have meaning.

  30. I love the Helen Keller quote and the CS Lewis quote too.

    Writing is my art.

    I write some 2000 to 6000 words or more daily because even though I ache at times writing makes me feel alive.

    I love sharing my gift with others.


    What a thoughtful read Jeff.


  31. It is “the agony of bliss” for me . The only way a tormented, creative soul finds her bliss is through the artful medium…a direct line to the divine

  32. Thanks for this beautiful post, a piece of art in and of itself. Thinking about the ache of art made me think about the art we create ourselves… Our children, our meals, our conversations. It’s hard to find the time to look at all of that in a way where we feel connected to that unspeakable ache. Thanks for the reminder to take those opportunities.

  33. This is one of your best posts, Jeff. Our lives are art if we live with that belief. But, yes, those moments when we allow our whirlwind lives to stop and breathe and to be present – art is there. Some of us are touched in powerful ways by music, paintings, words. The way God uses others as a channel to share his love is by making us aware of His beauty we call art. There is nothing like it.

  34. Art is God. It’s everywhere. It’s inside us. It’s in our words.Our thoughts. A look. A touch. An invention. Art is God. Thanks Jeff for reminding us. I retweeted this.

  35. Hi Jeff! This post and the one before are “fitting’ in the browser and this last one it is working in both! Makes me happy! Now to get a review into iTunes! Hope yours and Andy’s weekend is great!

  36. Jeff – this reminds me of my rant on procrastinating on Medium!

    It’s funny when I read listicles about how to be productive during our ‘free’ times. I couldn’t help but wonder whether spontaneity is a lost art.

    Do we have to schedule our whole life? Whatever happened to drinking THIS moment. Give your brain some rest and open your heart <3

    LOVE this, Jeff – thank you so much


  37. This may sound silly, but the song “Mad World” as sung by Adam Lambert, it just gave me chills and a wave of “whoa! stop what you’re doing and pay attention.” Similar to your blog theme, it talks about the rush of the world, people passing people never paying attention, overlooking everything in the pursuit of “it.”

  38. Thanks for the challenge and the reminder to slow down and pay attention to life and the beauty, the raw and the refined all around us, and for the opportunities to express it. You inspire!

  39. Jeff, thank you! God has given you the gift of writing, and you have worked faithfully learning how to hone your words and communicate to the heart. This 82 year old is learning from you and so thankful to have this opportunity!.

  40. Nice article, Jeff. I especially like the quote “Art reminds us of our humanity.” So true. And the ache of it. Funny, this reminds me of my beautiful dog and that sometimes just looking at her and how much I love her makes my heart ache. She is incredibly photogenic and I have a slide show of her on my computer screens that mesmerize me to the point of procrastination even when she’s lying next to me!

    There’s an interesting Economist interview with the author of Wait: The Art and Science of Delay in which he advocates procrastination as a way to connect with art. He also says that a fast food logo interferes with our ascetic experiences making us less appreciative of art. Disturbing when you consider how ubiquitous they are.

  41. Jeff I love your thoughts and your words. I believe art gets shoved aside all the time in my life by responsibility and I have to fight this to step around it and step toward it. Thanks for doing art in amazing ways. This is breathtaking.

  42. Jeff I am a painter and I so loved reading your post! Of course I 100% agree! 🙂 You expressed this so eloquently and I just had to share it with my fans and friends. Thank you for the reminder of the value of art!

  43. Thanks for the Blog. In my ministry I focus on what the
    various aspects of God’s creation tell us about God. The beauty we find in nature
    tells us something about God. Our desire for the beauty of nature and the beauty
    of art ultimately points back to God, the very first and most supreme artist.
    The book of Genesis, as written in the original Hebrew, expresses that God
    created the world with artistic delight and pleasure. When God designed the
    world he meant it to be enjoyed, to please our eyes and to stir our hearts. When
    God created, artistry and beauty were purposely part of His plan for the world
    we live in. The beauty we see in the world is a reflection of God’s infinite
    imagination. In the creation we see not only see God’s beauty, but His
    creativity, glory and majesty. Art and beauty are imprinted in our hearts to
    draw us to God.

  44. What a delightful post! Thank you, Jeff, for giving another voice to the importance of art. My boyfriend is a brilliant ballet dancer, and I must say watching his creative talent is art that has made me (and many others!) ache. It’s such a gift when you see someone moving in their God-given design! Thanks for sharing these great thoughts 🙂

  45. Such as beautiful song. I’d not heard it before. And the voices of those young people so pure, so simple that it did make my heart ache. Your post hit me between the eyes and in the heart big time.

    I agree with everything you said in your post. I had an “alive” moment today. I’ve been very sick and was out from my day job for 3 days. I had to go back today even though I still had a fever. My husband, who has Alzheimer’s told me I needed to stay home and rest more but I knew I had to go because I’m the only income except for his retirement pay which isn’t enough.

    The day was very busy and I had to leave my phone off, even though I knew he would call to ask me what I wanted for dinner. I was too sick to care and told him I’d just make me a salad. He was frustrated and seemed a bit lost but said ok and hung up. I felt bad that he probably thought I had brushed him off and I knew he was having a foggy moment. I resolved to get things in a stack and go home. By the time I got in the car he had text me that he had a healthy dinner for me and to come home when I could. I thanked him in a return text and dashed home. I had worried that he couldn’t decide what to fix because the Alzheimer’s fog was too much for him today. When I got home much to my surprise he had gone to a local Chinese restaurant and ordered dinner for both of us and brought it home. It was like a feast to me. We ate and talked and soon after I sat in my lounge chair and fell asleep. He woke me an hour later and not only had he taken all his pills and insulin shot on his own but he had loaded the dishwasher so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it. In that moment where we hugged and kissed good night, is when I felt it. To know that he was fighting back from that fog and doing everything possible despite all his problems, to let me know he is fighting and will not give up, made me feel more alive than ever. Thirty one years with the love of my life and you’d think at this point, there would be no surprises, but there are always surprises and the greatest gifts are the ones you can’t even imagine.

    Thank you Jeff. Your post is the highlighter for my day. If you don’t mind I’ll print this out and frame it on the wall in my writing room. It pays to slow down and take a good look around. Life really happens in those small moments that make us stop…and ache.

  46. Beautiful words that light up some dark places within me Jeff. I’m just now, after so many years, finding my art. And the breath of life it creates within me is divine. Thank you.

  47. An exhibit of works done by kids in crisis left a great impression on me. This post is further confirmation of a specific project God is calling me to. Thanks for appreciating and encouraging art, Jeff. Grace and peace to you.

  48. This is the first work that I’ve read of yours and I’m so delighted by the simplicity and depth of your thoughts. Indeed Art is isn’t something that needs to be discovered but it lies in the eyes of the beholder. Keep up the good work.

  49. Great post, Jeff! Beautiful. It’s so important. “But in order to do this, in order to find the life we all want, we must be stopped, thwarted from our petty pursuits and led down a nobler path. ”

    Thanks for the writing and the wisdom.

  50. Wonderful! but… Helen Keller is one of my heroes, but the words you have attributed to her come from Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s book, “The Little Prince” (Le Petit Prince, in the original French). Published in the 1940s.

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