The war of art

AGO takes a chance on au­thor’s bold vi­sion

Richmond Hill Post - - Books - by Mira Saraf

Art has long been the realm of the aca­demic elite. In his lat­est book, Alain de Bot­ton, an ac­claimed writer, philoso­pher and TV pre­sen­ter, ar­gues that this need not be the case. And in a bold move, the Art Gallery of On­tario is putting de Bot­ton’s words into prac­tice with an in­ven­tive new pro­gram sched­uled for early in the new year.

“I’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in try­ing to marry up the great works of cul­ture with the needs of ev­ery­day life and or­di­nary sit­u­a­tions,” he says.

The in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized aca­demic and mu­seum sys­tems dic­tate the way we are “sup­posed” to look at art. De Bot­ton ar­gues that this ap­proach is not nec­es­sar­ily the right one.

“It’s a very cold, ra­tio­nal re­sponse,” he says. “These works of art were cre­ated by very pas­sion­ate peo­ple, yet you wouldn’t know that from the very cool way in which they’re taught to us.”

De Bot­ton ex­plores these ideas in Art as Ther­apy, co-writ­ten with art his­to­rian John Arm­strong. The book outlines seven func­tions art can play in our lives and looks at ar­eas where art can have an im­pact on so­ci­ety, such as money, pol­i­tics and love.

“The ar­gu­ment is that art can do stuff for us,” he says. “So let’s get away from this idea that art is just for art’s sake.”

It is sim­i­lar to en­joy­ing a book: you can like it just for the char­ac­ters.

“We en­joy look­ing at at­trac­tive faces and think­ing about them,” he says.

“I think some­times the art es­tab­lish­ment has missed these ba­sic plea­sures and there­fore gets very con­vo­luted when it’s try­ing to ex­plain what it’s do­ing.”

Af­ter writ­ing the book, de Bot­ton ap­proached Matthew Teit­el­baum, head of the Art Gallery of On­tario, to pitch him the op­por­tu­nity to put the the­o­ries of the book into prac­tice.

Teit­el­baum was in­trigued to learn more and, af­ter read­ing the book, agreed to the pro­ject. The ex­hi­bi­tion will launch on May 3, 2014.

The AGO will be the first North Amer­i­can mu­seum to par­tic­i­pate in the pro­ject.

The ex­hibit will use the cur­rent works of art in the mu­seum but re­or­ga­nize them in a way that will give you tools to use art in your dayto-day life.

“Hope­fully it’ll just get a lot of peo­ple talk­ing in Toronto, think­ing, ‘OK, do I agree with it? If I don’t agree with it, why not? If I do agree with it, why?’ ” he says. “It should kick-start a good con­ver­sa­tion.”

Over­all, de Bot­ton is happy at the ac­cep­tance of his idea by the gallery.

“The art es­tab­lish­ment is very fierce and pro­tec­tive of its rules and as­sump­tions,” he says. “This is go­ing to be a show that goes right to the heart of chal­leng­ing all those as­sump­tions, so for a mu­seum to take that on board is gen­uinely a work of courage.”

In ad­di­tion to the Art as Ther­apy pro­ject, de Bot­ton has kept busy: he has helped found the School of Life in Lon­don, Eng­land, which fea­tures classes, ther­apy and in­struc­tions each night of the week.

“It ba­si­cally says there’s ideas out there that you can read, learn and hear about, and they will make a dif­fer­ence to your life,” he says.

The School of Life will open in Aus­tralia, France and the Nether­lands next year.

He has also writ­ten a new book about the me­dia and our ob­ses­sion with it, called The News: A User's Man­ual, which is due out in Fe­bru­ary of next year.

Alain de Bot­ton has au­thored such best­sellers as ‘The Ar­chi­tec­ture of Hap­pi­ness’ and ‘The Plea­sures and Sor­rows of Work’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.