Guffwatch - 'Art as Therapy' (ctd.)

April 25 2014

Image of Guffwatch - 'Art as Therapy' (ctd.)

Picture: Rijksmuseum

Time for another of Alain de Botton's label gems, folks. This one's from 'River View by Moonlight' by Aert van der Neer, 1645:

We've all known nights a bit like this. The ordinary preoccupations of the day recede and, away from the familiarity of home, one accesses unfamiliar, yet important, parts of oneself. The artist is trying to hold on to a mood of heightened consciousness at being alone in a strange, beautiful world. It is a mood that we all know but generally neglect.

Since Alain doesn't really think it's important to know who painted what, how can he claim to know what Aert van der Neer was thinking when he painted this? And judging by the number of figures in the scene, he can hardly be called 'alone'. The Irish have a good word for this sort of thing: gobshite

It seems, by the way, that I'm not alone in thinking Alain's labels are a bit far out. Here's Adrian Searle's review of the Rijksmuseum's new venture in The Guardian:

De Botton is like one of those "Jesus is your best mate" Christians, giving us not one but 150 thoughts for the day, on the ubiquitous labels, audioguide and downloadable app. He wants museums to become temples of virtue, places of instruction that go far beyond their usual remit of caring for and displaying centuries of culture. He'd probably also like to replace burgeoning museum education departments with outposts of his School of Life, a sort of drop-in self-help centre which, just this week, opened a branch in Amsterdam.

De Botton thinks we've got art all wrong. He doesn't like the way museums are organised and finds the usual little wall labels, with their dates and movements and snippets of art history, unhelpful. Ideally, he envisages museums reorganised according to therapeutic functions – with a basement of suffering, leading upwards to a gallery of self-knowledge on the top floor. It's like Dante's circles of hell.

De Botton's evangelising and his huckster's sincerity make him the least congenial gallery guide imaginable. He has no eye, and no ear for language. With their smarmy sermons and symptomology of human failings, their aphorisms about art leading us to better parts of ourselves, De Botton's texts feel like being doorstepped. But art contains concentrated doses of the virtues! You could coerce any art at all into his cause of mental hygiene and spiritual wellbeing. De Botton reduces art to its discernible content. He doesn't make us want to look at all.

Update - a reader writes:

That picture by the rather boring Aert v/d Neer is  about Moonshine, the stuff we brew here in the South. One's got to see  the symbolism...!

Another writes:

The label I have put next to de Botton’s work is “observe the petit philosopher still seeking an idea that will gain acceptance for emotion over knowledge.”. He should seek it by writing little descriptions for conceptual art, where it wouldn't matter and be indistinguishable from the drivel already there.

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