Of the many things we could say about art, one of the primary things we could say is that art creates longing. Beauty evokes desire. Beauty is not just skin deep; it’s soul deep. Archeologists have not yet discovered any stage of human existence without art. There are very few societies that do not attempt to decorate or capture in art, song, word, or ritual.
C. S. Lewis talked about his imagination being baptized after reading a work of George MacDonald fiction. What he meant was that it enlarged his sense of what is possible; it re-enchanted the ordinary world; it stirred a sense of longing within him.
When C. S. Lewis was just a little kid, his brother brought the lid of a biscuit tin into the nursery. He had covered it with moss and garnished it with twigs and flowers so as to make it a garden or a toy forest. Lewis says, “As long as I live my imagination of Paradise will retain something of my brother’s toy garden.” Lewis said that his brother’s work of art taught him “longing” – this dim sense of something just beyond our reach.
After Lewis turned from atheism, he looked back and realized that these experiences occurred periodically. God was whispering to him through his imagination, but he never listened. What he later realized was that he had been longing for a Person more than a place (Nicholi, Question of God, 27). All honest atheists will admit this vague sense of longing, a dim echo that seems to fade upon just catching it.
Art, literature, and music wake us up to beauty and a Beautiful One. “The book 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… 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 visited (Lewis).”
Art gives us fresh cravings and we begin to ache for something or a Someone. If you want to know what we long for, what we value, what we fear, the longings we possess, look at our stories, our poems, our songs, our paintings. We long for home and simple things, and we long for the Grand Artist, the source of all beauty.