My book (not yet published) is very much along the lines of Alain de Botton’s and John Armstrong’s Art as Therapy. In their book they unashamedly posit the idea that art should be didactic. What they mean is that contemplating visual art can help us to live more meaningful lives. They believe art appreciation should not just be an aesthetic experience but an existential one where questions such as, who am I? or, what really matters in this life? can be asked.
The two authors itemise some psychological frailties they think art can help ameliorate. Among these frailties are
We forget what really matters
We tend to lose hope and all too easily get mired in the negative
We feel isolated. (“Living lives of quiet desparation”?)
We lose sight of the fact that we are each a community of selves and respond by default to situations as if our likes and dislikes were fixed
We are hard to get to know and are mysterious to ourselves
We reject many experiences because they don’t fit into our self-images
We are taken in by the glamour of the contemporary scene.
They offer the counterparts for these frailties and educate us in how to look at art with new eyes and minds.
I deliberately left off reading their book until I’d finished writing mine; I didn’t want to plagiarise their ideas! Now that I’ve finished my book I can see how mine overlaps with theirs but has a completely different orientation. Mine is a more in-depth meditation on self-inquiry and the other big difference is mine is in the context of Renaissance art.
Reading Art as Therapy reminded me of another wonderful book by Bruno Munari, Design as Art.
It is a modest paperback of some 200pages. Like de Botton and Armstrong he delights in the well-made functional object of everyday life. Like all artists Munari has an original take on things. Here he talks about an orange as if it were a man-made object:
Each section or container consists of a plastic-like material large enough to contain the juice but easy to handle during the dismemberment of the global form. The sections are attached to one another by a very weak, though adequate, adhesive. The outer or packing container, following the growing tendency of today, is not returnable and may be thrown away.
His point is that designers can learn from the natural world, which is not an original thought but he champions the simple and the functional as opposed to the over-elaborate and expensive status symbol in so many examples. This Penguin Classic is full of his own quirky and amusing drawings; for example he has 7 pages taken up with drawings on ‘Variations on the Theme of the Human Face’! (See image at the head of this post)
What these books have in common is a belief that we can live in an environment where we don’t waste resources or exploit others, and where we can enjoy the appearance of things. Both books insist that we are not educated enough in how to distinguish the ugly from the beautiful; that even architects, for example, too often go along with fashion and expediency.
Next time you see a new housing development see if the materials and design are harmonious or is it a matter of cheap, mass produced ‘little boxes’ for our little consumer lives? Why aren’t all new domestic and public buildings fitted with solar panels? Expense? Use some of the money from cancelling Trident!