Greetings Friends,

In a thought-provoking article published last week, Susan Cain explored the question of why we listen to sad music. No one wants to feel sad, so what’s the attraction to melancholy?

If you’re not familiar with Cain’s work, she’s the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and her most recent book, Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole.

Here’s Cain’s explanation of what draws us to the bittersweet:

The grand unifying theory that explains the paradox of tragedy is (like most such theories) deceptively simple: We don’t actually welcome tragedy per se. What we like are sad and beautiful things – the bitter together with the sweet.

In other words: we like art forms that express our longing for union, and for a more perfect and beautiful world.

When we feel strangely thrilled by the sorrow of Moonlight Sonata, it’s the longing for love that we’re experiencing – fragile, fleeting, evanescent, precious, transcendent love.

The operative word in that sentence is not “love,” but “longing.”

According to Cain, it’s the longing that fills us with life, and this phenomenon extends to art forms other than music as well.

Years later, I can still remember stunning pieces of art that brought me to tears when viewed in person. One of them is Jay DeFeo’s huge painting, “The Jewel,” on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Jay DeFeo The Jewel

And all of John Register’s hauntingly vacant paintings.

John Register art

John Register art

These pieces are striking in their beauty and their feelings of sorrow.

I also sometimes explore sorrow in my own work, but until now I had never thought about why I’m drawn to the darker themes of grief and loss.

Cassandra Tondro fiber art

“Memento Mori,” 20 x 16 inches, fiber art

Cassandra Tondro fiber art

“Never Forgotten,” 20 x 20 inches, fiber art

Loss is part of life, and without the contrast, happiness would be taken for granted. When I express sadness and loss in my work it’s a reminder of the depth and complexity of human emotions and our ability to endure and recover from pain. Perhaps a longing for a more perfect and beautiful world, as Cain has said.

When are you drawn to the bittersweet? I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts. You can share them with us in the comments section below.

With love and appreciation,



  1. I have always been drawn to sad things – sad books, movies, art, etc. For me, it is about things that make me feel deeply. Friends think I’m strange but I don’t feel from the sadness all the time (if that makes sense). I just like to feel.

    1. Good point, Joanne. I also like to feel, and sadness does draw that out. So many books, movies, art etc. are vacant and just leave me feeling empty. It feels good to be able to feel something!

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