Art as Therapy

Source: Art as Therapy

 

Most works of art do not present us with radically strange and unexpected ideas: rather, they lend life to truths that had become cliches. Their power lies in getting us to feel important thoughts that had become merely intellectual and sterile.

seven core psychological functions of art:

  1. remembering

    Art is a way of preserving experiences, of which there are many transient and beautiful examples, and that we need help containing.

  2. hope

    Cheerfulness is an achievement, and hope is something to celebrate. If optimism is important, it’s because many outcomes are determined by how much of it we bring to the task. It is an important ingredient of success. This flies in the face of the elite view that talent is the primary requirement of a good life, but in many cases the difference between success and failure is determined by nothing more than our sense of what is possible and the energy we can muster to convince others of our due. We might be doomed not by a lack of skill, but by an absence of hope.

  3. sorrow

    art helps us feel less alone in our suffering, to which the social expression of our private sorrows lends a kind of affirmative dignity. Art can offer a grand and serious vantage point from which to survey the travails of our condition.

  4. re-balancing

    We may have a tendency to be too complacent, or too insecure; too trusting, or too suspicious; too serious, or too light-hearted. Art can put us in touch with concentrated doses of our missing dispositions, and thereby restore a measure of equilibrium to our listing inner selves. Art can save us time — and save our lives — through opportune and visceral reminders of balance and goodness that we should never presume we know enough about already.

  5. self understanding

    We are not transparent to ourselves. We have intuitions, suspicions, hunches, vague musings, and strangely mixed emotions, all of which resist simple definition. We have moods, but we don’t really know them. Then, from time to time, we encounter works of art that seem to latch on to something we have felt but never recognized clearly before. Alexander Pope identified a central function of poetry as taking thoughts we experience half-formed and giving them clear expression: “what was often thought, but ne’er so well expressed.” In other words, a fugitive and elusive part of our own thinking, our own experience, is taken up, edited, and returned to us better than it was before, so that we feel, at last, that we know ourselves more clearly.

    More than that, they argue, the self-knowledge art bequeaths gives us a language for communicating that to others — something that explains why we are so particular about the kinds of art with which we surround ourselves publicly, a sort of self-packaging we all practice as much on the walls of our homes as we do on our Facebook walls and art Tumblrs. While the cynic might interpret this as mere showing off, however, de Botton and Armstrong peel away this superficial interpretation to reveal the deeper psychological motive — our desire to communicate to others the subtleties of who we are and what we believe in a way that words might never fully capture. (Brain Pickings)

  6. growth

    Engagement with art is useful because it presents us with powerful examples of the kind of alien material that provokes defensive boredom and fear, and allows us time and privacy to learn to deal more strategically with it. An important first step in overcoming defensiveness around art is to become more open about the strangeness that we feel in certain contexts.

  7. appreciation

    One of our major flaws, and causes of unhappiness, is that we find it hard to take note of what is always around us. We suffer because we lose sight of the value of what is before us and yearn, often unfairly, for the imagined attraction elsewhere. Art is one resource that can lead us back to a more accurate assessment of what is valuable by working against habit and inviting us to recalibrate what we admire or love.

 

 

Unknown, China

Guanyin, 12th century

Guanyin is the Buddhist counterpart to the Virgin Mary and she fulfills a similar role: that of hearing us in our distress, meeting us with tenderness and strengthening us to face the tasks of life.

The centrality of these maternal figures in both Buddhism and Christianity suggests that mature adult lives share moments of deep self-doubt – and longings to recover some of the security of childhood. We need to be reassured that these wishes are not a sign that we have failed as human beings.

Modern society struggles deeply to update what this figure represents. A challenge for today’s artists might be to provide us with a contemporary version of the nurturing ‘mother’ – or father.

This is how carousel becomes useful in this era of anxiety.

 

The purpose of this book is to introduce a new method of interpreting art: art as a form of therapy. It’s the authors’ contention that certain art works provide powerful solutions to our problems, but that in order for this potential to be released, the audience’s attention has to be directed towards it in a new way (which they demonstrate), rather than towards the more normal historical or stylistic concerns with which art books and museum captions are traditionally associated.

The authors propose that the squeamish belief that art should be ‘for art’s sake’ has unnecessarily held back art from revealing its latent therapeutic potential. This book involves reframing and recontextualising a series of art works from across the ages and genres, so that they can be approached as tools for the resolution of difficult issues in individual life.

 

 

Art as Therapy: Alain de Botton on the 7 Psychological Functions of Art