Book Review: Art as Therapy
A thorough exploration of how we consume art and the different roles it plays in our lives
What is the point of art? What kind of art should one make? How should we study art? How should art be displayed? If you’ve ever sought out any of these questions, Art as Therapy is a good place to start from. Written by contemporary philosopher and The School of Life founder Alain de Botton with art historian John Armstrong, it features 150 examples of art and its purpose for the commonplace observer. Art is vital to one’s existence—why exactly?
De Botton—bestselling author of Status Anxiety, On Love and The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work—notes the seven (psychological) functions of art, which include remembering, hope, sorrow, rebalancing, self-understanding, growth and appreciation. He writes, “We are not transparent to ourselves. We have intuitions, suspicions, hunches, vague musings and strangely mixed emotions, all of which resist simple definition. We have moods, but we don’t really know them. Then, from time to time, we encounter works of art that seem to latch on to something we have felt but never recognized clearly before.” Such is the power of art.
In Central Park—where time did not exist—my eyes were fixed towards Art as Therapy after a 2-hour visit to the Museum of Modern Arts; happiness was everywhere that day. This unfamiliar place, that was but a dream, left a lasting mark because of the pages that lay before me. In my heart, these words were imprinted: “We call a work beautiful when it supplies the virtues we are missing, and we dismiss as ugly one that forces us on moods or motifs that feel either threatened or already overwhelmed by. Art holds out the promise of inner wholeness.”
National Museum of Fine Arts, Manila
In the pilgrimage of love, habit has the ability to take away tenderness; art seeks to remedy this. “To rescue a long-term relationship from complacency, we might learn to effect on our spouse much the same imaginative transformation that Manet (Bunch of Asparagus, 1880) performed on his vegetables. We should try to locate the good and the beautiful beneath the layers of habit and routine. We may so often have seen our partner pushing a buggy, crossly berating the electricity company or returning home defeated from the workplace that we have forgotten the dimension in him or her that remains adventurous, impetuous, cheeky, intelligent, and above else, worthy of love.” He uses the plain stalk, recorded with subtle individuality to illustrate the point.
De Botton argues how art is therapy. He shares, “[Art] can teach us to be more just towards ourselves as we endeavor to make the best of our circumstances: a job we do not always love, the imperfections of middle age, our frustrated ambitions and our attempts to stay loyal to irritable but loved spouses. Art can do the opposite of glamorizing the unattainable; it can reawaken us to the genuine merit of life as we’re forced to lead it.”
Any practical, perhaps reasonable man would argue that the pursuit of art is futile. But beauty, the mere experience of it, weaves meaning to one’s soul. As theologian C.S. Lewis perfectly put it, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” Some days, you just need to go to a museum, survey a piece of artwork for approximately 15 minutes and allow yourself to feel. Behold the stillness and revel in it. Man is able to create universes; get lost in it.
Photography Elisa Aquino
Art Alexandra Lara