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Art As Therapy

In the book Art as Therapy (Phaidon Press, 2013), philosopher Alain de Botton and art historian John Armstrong take up this very question and offer us not only a possible purpose for art but also a way for us to rewire how art is presented and experienced.

The book argues that instead of the more academic way we are used to viewing and thinking about art—in which what we look at is curated by art historians and divided by the style, century, country, or artist and thought about in an intellectual way—there is another way to look at art that could deeply transform our lives. The authors propose that art can be viewed therapeutically—that instead of using these usual divisions, we can view art as a way of deepening or coming to terms with the numerous life difficulties and milestones we all face and experience. Art could then have a profound purpose, they suggest—the purpose of healing.

1. Enjoy a therapeutic museum or gallery afternoon. With pen and notebook, take a walk through a local museum looking for works of art that seem to reflect what you are feeling right now. At each one you find, sit and quietly spend time with it: its colors, its emotions, what the artist might be trying evoke or capture. Write what you see and what you feel the work of art is saying to you about your current feelings. Take a moment after you are done writing to just sit again with the work of art. Perhaps silently thank the artist for his or her understanding. Then go on to find a few more works that speak to your current frame of mind.

2. Do an Internet art recharge. On a day that you can’t go to a gallery or museum to view art therapeutically, take a short break from work or family obligations to look for two or three works of art on the Internet. Visit the websites of some of the world’s great museums and galleries, or go to individual artists’ sites. You can also find photographs on sites devoted to nature or travel. Take some time with each image and relate it to what you are feeling or to a current life issue, and see what that image says to you. Keep an online journal of all your images so you can revisit them at other times when you need to recharge.
3. Take a snapshot moment: Art is everywhere! Sometimes we need to process our feelings and rejuvenate ourselves, but we don’t have time or are not in the right place to visit a museum or even surf the Internet for therapeutic images. This is the perfect opportunity to realize that we can find art all around us. Our offices and homes have been designed by architects; our backyards or the view out our windows are potential photographs. Everything around us has a shape, a form, a color, a tone. Take a moment to look at what is right in front of you as a work of art—the library clock on the wall that is ticking and makes you feel for a moment that you are in a past century, the bold colors at the fast-food restaurant where you are standing in line for a sandwich, the sharp angles of the receptionist’s desk at the dentist’s office. Make a mental note of the image and notice whether the act of observing or appreciating it alters your mood or frame of mind. Take a snapshot with your mobile phone in case you want a reminder of the experience-

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