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.
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.