Verbum Incarnatum: An Academic Journal of Social Justice


In this essay, I examine the relationship between aesthetic experience and suffering, and I specifically explore how and why the former can potentially serve to meliorate the severity of the latter. Of course, that art and beauty can provide a certain measure of comfort and healing to the afflicted is a universally acknowledged truth; however, the reasons why this should be so could be considered an equally universal mystery. “I feel we understand too little about the psychology of loss,” writes Arthur Danto, “to understand why the creation of beauty is so fitting a way of marking it.” By exploring how a number of thinkers (from philosophers to physicians to literary theorists) have viewed the relationship between aesthetic experience and suffering, I advance two theses: first, that aesthetic experience can, in fact, potentially serve to restore a measure of wholeness to an individual whose suffering has damaged or even destroyed the integrity of their personhood and second, that despite this potential benefit of aesthetic experience, the severity and uniqueness of individual suffering will always resist any endeavor to formalize attempts to treat its various manifestations.