Get­ting to the art of the mat­ter

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - BOOKS - CLYDE SELBY


By Alain de Bot­ton and John Arm­strong Pub­lished by Phaidon Hard­cover, $ 45

NOT since the days of Socrates and Plato has there been one who has made phi­los­o­phy so pop­u­lar and ac­ces­si­ble as Alain de Bot­ton.

Un­like the sages from clas­si­cal times, how­ever, whose in­flu­ence only ex­tended to their hem- kiss­ing dis­ci­ples and the en­light­ened mi­nor­ity, de Bot­ton has be­come a house­hold name to un­told mil­lions due to his many pub­li­ca­tions and tele­vi­sion pro­grams.

An avowed athe­ist but not nec­es­sar­ily a Christ­mas or Easter killjoy, de Bot­ton nev­er­the­less de­plores all the mythol­ogy, vul­gar­ity and ex­cess that seems in­te­gral to be­ing part of the tribal spirit of Chris­tian cal­en­dar oc­ca­sions.

He has joined forces with John Arm­strong, who is an au­thor and a reg­u­lar com­men­ta­tor on ABC ra­dio as well as be­ing se­nior ad­viser in Mel­bourne Univer­sity’s Of­fice of the Vice Chan­cel­lor.

Art is said to be very im­por­tant with­out any­one be­ing able to ex­plain con­vinc­ingly why this is so. In Art as Ther­apy, the au­thors ap­ply their com­bined tal­ents to an­a­lyse and pro­mote its ben­e­fits.

They as­sert that art gal­leries could be in­sti­tu­tions of self- help that would re­place churches for spir­i­tual and philo­soph­i­cal guid­ance.

In the light of the bur­geon­ing art mar­ket in­ter­na­tion­ally, this will be a heart­en­ing gospel to gallery own­ers and en­trepreneurs as well as the pain­ters and sculp­tors to­wards the end of the food chain.

In­stead of the pri­est and the church ser­vice, it is sug­gested that con­tem­plat­ing art could al­le­vi­ate psy­cho­log­i­cal im­per­fec­tions and per­sonal doubts and anx­i­eties.

Wor­thy of men­tion is the way the au­thors ex­co­ri­ate the morally du­bi­ous prac­tice of mak­ing money with com­modi­ties that are harm­ful and then spend­ing the for­tune on the en­dow­ment of art gal­leries.

Linked to this is their be­lief that peo­ple with money should have taste ( but that is a con­cept no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult to de­fine).

Art as Ther­apy is a beau­ti­fully pre­sented book with many colour plates of mostly western art works.

Se­quen­tially sec­tions are broached with names such as “Re­mem­ber­ing”, “Hope”, “Sor­row” and “Re­la­tion­ships” with sup­port­ing paint­ings or photographs, sculp­tures or build­ings.

Al­though en­com­pass­ing a wide range of styles and cen­turies, the choice of fea­tured art­works is of course en­tirely idio­syn­cratic and in­evitably sub­jec­tive ac­cord­ing to the pen­chants of the au­thors.

Cor­re­spond­ingly the reader and viewer could be in­spired or re­pelled by the con­tro­ver­sial mixed me­dia Holy Vir­gin Mary by Chris Ofili with its use of ele­phant dung.

Sim­i­larly Manet’s de­pic­tion of as­para­gus may pro­vide a way of deal­ing with per­sonal part­ner­ships and it’s pos­si­ble that a Korean pot with a pale glaze could re­store psy­cho­log­i­cal bal­ance and ap­pro­pri­ate feel­ings of mod­esty

Need­less to say there can never be em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence about def­i­nite ad­van­tages to be gained from vis­it­ing art gal­leries.

It could be a soothing dis­trac­tion from life’s woes; a pleas­ant es­capism for a time, an in­tel­lec­tual ex­er­cise, and a way of un­der­stand­ing the his­tory of a coun­try or a con­tem­pla­tion of beauty how­ever broadly that is in­ter­preted but whether it would al­le­vi­ate a trou­bled soul or im­prove the hu­man con­di­tion is im­pos­si­ble to an­swer.

One can only spec­u­late if go­ing to a li­brary and see­ing the ar­ray of works on ev­ery con­ceiv­able sub­ject that have been writ­ten by cen­turies of ex­cep­tional minds would bet­ter achieve this end.

Could a visit to a botan­i­cal or zoo­log­i­cal gar­den to ad­mire the var­i­ous ex­otic species from around the world or al­ter­na­tively the eco­log­i­cal bal­ance in an old- growth for­est ob­tain the equiv­a­lent and pos­si­ble ther­a­peu­tic relief?

Mod­ern ar­chi­tec­tural sci­ence is look­ing to poly­mer plas­tics and bac­te­ria for self- heal­ing build­ings.

Whether art can ever be prag­mat­i­cally di­rected to heal the cracks and dam­age sus­tained by emo­tional shocks to a hu­man brain is some­thing for the fu­ture, per­haps.

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