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I make art because I have a longing for a beauty I cannot fully see


Sehnsucht is a German word that is often translated incorrectly as “yearning” or “longing.” But Sehnsucht is too complex to be translated into just one or two words. Sehnsucht is a type of bittersweet or even painful longing, much like nostalgia for a place that I cannot quite reach. I am given small, fractured glimmers of this nostalgia that flash quickly through a moment in my day. In those moments it almost feels like a memory, something I used to grasp but can no longer find. The glimpse for me may come in the form of crisp autumn air filling my lungs, or in the way I feel when I see a particularly beautiful sunset or landscape. It may arise in the form of a few bars of a Brahms symphony, a few verses of a Robert Frost poem, or a conversation I have with someone that I find deeply fulfilling but that leaves me aching for something beyond my reach.

Brahms Process-13

As with much of the beauty of experience, my work sits in this place for me. Art can be visual Sehnsucht, an experience that points me to the incompleteness of my soul. Art is a part of the aching, stretching, and yearning that defines the human spirit. As C.S. Lewis once wrote,

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”

Art can be deeply spiritual, even for those who don’t consider themselves spiritually inclined. I find that beauty can be a remembrance of Eden, a shadow of what it must have felt like to live in perfect Shalom, not just with the God who I believe created me, but with my fellow man, with nature, with myself. That’s why it aches so much to witness beauty. I am arrested by it. Some small sliver of me is given the opportunity to remember what it must have felt like for Adam and Eve before they decided that it was not enough to satisfy them, a decision that effectively gave birth to this multi-faceted yearning, a state of tension in which I will always find myself so long as I am east of Eden.

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My work explores Sehnsucht, because even the most beautiful of paintings is seared with longing and discontent. I ask questions about the darkness and even rebellion that originates from the inside of my soul. I aim to explore the beauty, the pain, and the frailty of human existence using temporal elements: acrylic paint and metal leafing. Metal can tarnish over time. My paintings might very well pass away one day, be painted over, or be destroyed. I never want to forget their ephemeral nature and misplace the source of the feelings I possess when I view them or make them.

The process of a painting always begins with a seeking to more deeply understand the source of that Sehnsucht. I choose to seek the answers to my questions through non-representational art because I don’t get distracted by fully concrete figures but instead I have time to marry the uncertainty and changeable nature of the human spirit to what I am sure of.

I am deeply inspired by our shared experiences as human beings, both cultural and individual. I am driven by C.S. Lewis’ suggestion: art and beauty arouse and stir up that Sehnsucht within me. They exist as a shadow, an impression of the real thing. And part of what keeps me painting is the possibility that my art can point to something much greater.


3 comments on “I make art because I have a longing for a beauty I cannot fully see

  1. Love this post! Interestingly, I started working through a post on living in Shalom…I love how you beautifully link it to sehnsucht. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Kelly, I stumbled upon you post and cried. I experience Sehnsucht nearly every time I fix my eyes on Jesus. I have recently started to learn how to paint with watercolor and I have journaled my journey with God for over thirty years. I believe all in an effort to somehow document the “longing for a beauty I cannot see”. Thank you for expressing g so beautifully the longing in my heart!


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