I’ve been reading Alain de Botton and John Artmstrong’s book Art As Therapy, literally outlining how we could experience art to help us navigate life’s challenges and how we deal with them. Talk about revolutionary…The book’s basic idea is that, instead of museums offering sterile galleries organized as “French Impressionists” or “Italian Landscapes before 1600,” they could offer us entire floors of “Love” or “Dealing with Grief” or “How to Flourish in a Long Term Relationship.”
Imagine if boring art history classes were organized by how art makes you feel rather than by artist, year, medium, and what the curators think.
What if experiencing beauty could offer solace in an unjust world?
That’s exactly what Botton, Armstrong, and another historian, Roger Scrouton claim is beauty’s profound purpose.
Most people don’t seek out ugly clothes to buy or are proud of investing in an ugly sofa, car, or house, yet if you listen to many contemporary curators, art dealers, and gallerists, investing in ugly art is where it’s at. If you have to ask why, “you just don’t get it.”
Among a small fraction of the academic elite I get flack for creating work that is beautiful. According to Art As Therapy, what I had in my artist statement for years is absolutely correct, that far from beauty distracting us from fixing the ills of the world, we need it more than ever as a balm. We are all too aware of how cruel, unjust, and polluted the world is, and sometimes we need a respite to inspire us to keep going and keep dealing with it.
When life is tough, do you put on a song you hate or one that soothes your soul?
When you see beauty in nature does it elicit a desire to protect and preserve what you love?
Do you watch a favorite movie when you need a pick-me-up? Why that one? What’s it’s message? The scenery? The costume design or sets? Does it remind you of a time in your life when you felt happy or hopeful?
Experiencing beauty gives us the strength to persist when life feels overwhelming.
If there is power in beauty it’s not merely the bias and privilege unconsciously awarded to those deemed young and attractive. The solace beauty gives helps us persist to make things better for those around us. Rather than leaving us staring at only the surfaces of “skin deep’” beauty’s inherent complexity invites us to delve deeper, to briefly get lost in its wonder and feel the connection of admiration.