Guffwatch - 'Art as Therapy'

April 23 2014

Image of Guffwatch - 'Art as Therapy'

Picture: Rijksmuseum

At last, the British philosopher Alain de Botton has completed his re-labelling of the Rijksmuseum's collection. This is billed as 'Art as Therapy', and seems to be a giant plug for his latest book. And, dear readers, prepare yourselves for an orgy of unparalleled Guff. I'll treat you to Alain's efforts sporadically over the next few days.

First, here's what Alain has to say about Adriaen Van Utrecht's 1644 'Banquet Still Life', above.:

It's easy to feel that consumerism is a bit evil. Yet it doesn't have to be stupid. A good response to anxiety about consumerism isn't to live without lobster and lemons, but to appreciate what goes into providing these at a just price. If the route to your table were truly honourable, a lemon would cost more, but our appreciation of its zest would be all the keener.

Priceless. The Rijksmuseum's website tells us why de Botton (and his co-author John Armstrong) think informative and factual labels are just so pointless:

De Botton and Armstrong feel that by providing the name of the artist, the material used, the period in which the object was made/created, etc., traditional museum text boards already suggest what the visitor should think about a certain object. The exhibition Art is Therapy, however, wants to question what the purpose of art is and highlight the therapeutic effect that art has on visitors who simply look at art and enjoy it. As far as the British philosophers are concerned, the focus should be less on where an art object comes from and who made it, and more on what it can do for the museum visitor in terms of issues that concern us all: love & relationships, work, status, memory and mortality.

Update - a reader writes:


They all miss the point.  Art Museums may provide therapy to visitors.  They certainly provide it to this writer.  Art, however, wasn't produced principally for display in museums until quite recently.  This point is made clearly by Andre Malraux in the opening chapters of “Voices of Silence.”. Perhaps the need for therapy has increased or art museums should become licensed to provide medical services.

How much of de Botton’s writing and philosophy would be published and read if the publisher or reader received it without an indication of authorship.  What would readers think of the work if it were published anonymously and without context (probably online).  It seems that the main therapeutic benefit of this philosophy is to its authors.

Another reader adds:

I think it's dumb to see art as a theraphy as well, because I don't want to be a patient !

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