By now you all know about my grant (whether you are interested or not…). I was awarded this grant to make an outline for a book very much inspired by Alain de Botton & John Armstrong’s Art as Therapy. Actually my intention is to try to test some of their hypothesis in praxis – not as they do, on historical pictures, but on contemporary art.
This is what got me started last autumn:
… the art establishment proceeds under the assumption that art can have no purpose in any instrumental or utilitarian sense. It exists “for art’s sake,” and to ask anything more of it is to muddy pure and sacred waters. This refusal to name a purpose seems profoundly mistaken. If art is to deserve its privileges (and it does), we have to learn how to state more clearly what it is for and why it matters in a busy world. I would argue that art matters for therapeutic reasons. It is a medium uniquely well suited to helping us with some of the troubles of inner life: our desire for material things, our fear of the unknown, our longing for love, our need for hope.
According to Art as Therapy:
- Art (a category that includes works of design, architecture and craft) is a therapeutic medium that can help guide, exhort and console its viewer, enabling them to become better versions of themselves.
- If culture is to matter to us deeply, then it has to engage with our emotions and bring something to what one might call our souls. Art galleries should be apothecaries for our deeper selves.
- Art is a tool, which has the power to extend our capacities beyond those the nature has originally endowed us with. While traditional tools often are extensions of the body, art is an extension of the mind. Art, says the authors, help us with psychological frailties.
Art as Therapy presents 7 areas, seven functions of art:
Alain de Botton & John Armstrong are criticized for being naive, for using art in an instrumental way, for positivistic thinking. Alain de Botton agrees on the instrumental objection, that is he advocates for an instrumental stance, he says:
It is a totally instrumentalist point of view. It’s very unfashionable but I’m totally into instrumentalism, 100%. And some people go, “Well, you’re using it this way but what if someone else wants to use it this way and another way?” And I think that’s great — there’s not just one instrumentalism. There are many paths, but the point is you want to go somewhere with it, and you should be able to say where.
There are lots of attacks on the art world, from all sorts of directions. People say the art world is pretentious, people say it’s a close-knit coterie driving up prices; you could criticize it from many different angles. Ultimately, the art world doesn’t make it easy for people to use art in the way it should be used, which is to negotiate the great challenges of life. I think that art has a great therapeutic dimension, and the art world doesn’t help you find your way to that.
I’m not sure about the great therapeutic dimension, it looks very much like some kind of positive thinking, and I’m much too melancholic & misanthropic for believing in such ideas. But at the same time I’m sure that art is alfa-omega in my own life, and I know I’m not alone in valuing art as an extremely important aspect of life. So I go to Alain de Botton & John Armstrong as a skeptic, a doubting Thomas - refusing to believe anything without trying out the ideas, testing the 7 functions, for myself.