This art blog is inspired by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong’s book “Art as Therapy“. The book introduces a new mindset in looking at art. It argues that we should use art as a form of therapy to improve our personal life experience, find answers to our questions, help us solve our problems. Art can help us to be good persons, and even push us to improve as a society.
With this approach, it does not matter whether you know much about the life of the artist, the philosophy behind the style or the historical background of the motive. You do not need a sign next to the painting, telling you what to think and feel. The important part is what you see in the artwork, what it makes you feel and how it can help you.
Alain de Botton introduces seven functions of art in the therapeutic sense:
Art can capture and preserve the emotion of a moment, a situation or story that you want to save, in order to remind you of this experience and also to be able to communicate it to others. In this, art can emphasize the significant elements of the moment, choose to leave out the insignificant and thus make you acutely aware of the essence of the experience.
We tend to dismiss art that is “pretty”, or dismiss the interpretation of prettiness as invalid and beside the point, yet we do indeed like pretty things. What is it that draws us to beauty and idealisation? It moves us, it gives us hope. The contrast of beauty versus the tragedy of life enhances both experiences. Similar to how a caricatures push us into thinking critically by simplifying and exaggerating the ugly, painful truths of society, the same concept applies to idealised images in the opposite meaning.
Art can teach us how to suffer more successfully. Instead of dismissing and ignoring painful experiences or numbing our sorrow, we learn to engage with our sadness. We learn to understand it, accept it as a natural part of human life. Finding your sadness expressed in a piece of art means you are not alone in feeling this emotion in this way. Art puts our suffering into perspective, makes us conscious of the largeness of time and space and thus equips us to deal with our intense grief in a strong and healthy way.
We are too stressed, too bored, too … – there is always a “too much” or “too little” in our personal life and we are in dire need of finding a balance. This is what art can do by injecting a concentrated dose of our missing dispositions. If we are stressed by the fast, technical city life, a painting of a quiet meadow in the forest may provide the much-needed counterbalance. When you feel bored with the unexciting normality of daily life, maybe a piece of wildly expressive abstract art gives you some excitement. What kind of art rebalances each person differs greatly, both between individuals and in time. It depends on which part of our emotional self is currently unaccounted for and needs some stimulation. In reaching a balance, art can help us to be more moral – it can serve as a reminder to be good, to find motivation and to be content with a situation or person with all imperfections and flaws that are part of it.
Art can show us something that we have felt, but never really recognised clearly before. It mirrors a part of our inner lives and thus draws our attention to it, makes it clearer and easier to identify. Seeing and recognising your emotions in this way gives you a safe space to explore, understand and cope with this emotion. The artwork also enables you to communicate your feelings to other people. You can point at the painting and say “This is me. This is how I feel, sometimes.” and they will understand you a bit better – maybe you even discover they feel in a similar way, that you are not alone.
We do not like all art. This is often dismissed as not understanding, even treated as close-mindedness. Nevertheless, feeling dislike or even hostility is just as normal and natural a reaction to art as being pleased by it. Art sometimes confronts us with uncomfortable associations and feelings. The important step is to ask yourself “Why don’t I like this artwork?” and to engage with it. Be open to the feeling of strangeness and become aware of the seemingly alien mindset that is putting you off in this artwork. Then, look for points of connection between your own and the artist’s mindset. Think about which new or unusual ideas and attitudes the work introduces to you, and grow by finding connections to you and with our humanity.
We get so used to our surroundings that we do not even really see them any more. Art can lift everyday objects and impressions up to our awareness and help us to see them afresh, to appreciate them for what they are. This appreciation we can then take on to other aspects of our life, on to appreciate our environment, the people around us, our daily moods and emotions. We learn to value our ordinary life.
In this art blog, I will explore these approaches on a personal basis. This introduction is a bit more formal, but from here onward, I am going to present one piece of art in each blog post and tell you about my own experience in seeing this particular artwork and in what way it helps me to appreciate, cope with or improve on aspects of my life and possibly even the lives of others.
This will of course result in very individual and personal interpretations and you as a reader might not at all agree with me on my experience. And that is how it should be! Every one of us sees art in a different way. Therefore I encourage you to leave your thoughts and impressions in the comments. Tell me about what you see in the artwork presented, or maybe you would like to share a completely different piece of art which envokes similar thoughts and feelings in you.
With my blog, spreading this inspiring mindset, I hope to make art more accessible and easier to understand for everybody.
I will aim for one new blog post every week and look forward to your feedback!
For more info about the book and the author, see Alain de Botton’s website, where you will also find links to interviews and other videos.
I also recommend this article by the Guardian for a more detailed insight and examples from the book.