if art is to matter …

Continuing yesterday’s post – here is Alain De Botton, arguing for an instrumental use of art: 

The idea that one might use art for a purpose, for “instrumental” reasons, tends to set off alarm bells. Art is not an instrument, comes the almost automatic reply. It shouldn’t be thought of as some kind of tool. It’s not a pill. It shouldn’t be asked to perform some specific function, especially something as egocentric as to cheer you up or to make you a more empathetic person. Art galleries aren’t chemists.


Antti Laitinen © Self-portrait in the Swamp (2002)

I couldn’t disagree more, Alain de Botton continues:  If culture is to matter to us deeply, then it has to engage with our emotions and bring something to what one might call our souls. Art galleries should be apothecaries for our deeper selves.

– Alain de Botton

I’m not sure of exactly what Laitinen’s picture bring to my soul. But spending time with art is amongst the most meaningful things I do in my life, even if it’s sometimes rather difficult to explain why.


ANTTI LAITINEN © still from:  It’s My Island, (2007)

Art pleasure might be difficult to explain, but it’s still worth investigating: Maybe I love art because it’s a consolation to see people investing all their time and creativity in the strangest of projects? Maybe I love art because it reminds me that life isn’t a cost-benefit equation. Maybe I love art because it makes my everyday world more magical, unpredictable, and beautiful?

What about you? Can you tell me what kind of function – if any – art has in your life?

6 Comments Add yours

  1. At the risk of comparing apples to oranges here is an article regarding the possible effects of literary fiction…

    As for art’s function in my life? Art prepares my mind to see the world in a new way, offers a different perspective or previously unknown insight. This process is essential to my project of becoming a poet. Art teaches me to be humble about what I know, or think I know about the world.

  2. beaumontjones says:

    I like the way that Alain de Botton explores philosophical questions that others avoid because they are too difficult: What is art? What is the function of art? I was asked many times to respond to these questions when at art school and again later when at art teacher training college. I felt it was a sort of trick question that teachers posed new students – partly in order to get them thinking, but also out of a sort of smug delight in knowing these questions could never be answered. I remember one teacher arguing that cooking is art. Is it? Poor students; Marcel Duchamp was long gone so we couldn’t ask him.

    My views – all about what art is not! Art can be instrumental if you want it to be; but certainly it has no obligation to be so. Just as with literature, art and artists have no proscribed remit to be political, therapeutic, decorative, challenging, ugly or beautiful. But it can be any or all of these.

    What I love about art, amongst other things, is that it is a direct and quasi-magical articulation of individual imagination. As though plucked from the air, each time manifesting like a kaleidoscope a new embodiment of human vision.Nothing, nobody, should rein in this creativity.

    If people want the art they view or own to serve a specific function, they can seek out art that performs this function or create it for themselves. But we cannot expect that art or art galleries or artists serve a proscribed role in our lives.

  3. Art serves to help me organize and illustrate my thoughts.

  4. c m wilson says:

    I love your suggestion that art reminds one that life isn’t a cost-benefit equation. I fiercely concur. To me, art can benefit both the artist and its audience in inexplicable ways. Art expresses basic human emotions, needs, wants, subconscious thought. Human beings, at one point or another need to be able to comprehend not only one another but also themselves, and art can provide a vehicle for such an understanding. In that sense, art can be as necessary as breathing.

  5. I, for one, could not live without art, at least not as a fully-functioning, empathic, curious, conscious human being who seeks for meaning. And I felt this way from the time I was very, very young–too young to have formed any elitist or educated ideas about art’s ethical or commodity value.

  6. Harold Rhenisch says:

    Hi, Sigrun, I’ve posted my reply on my blog, http://haroldrhenisch.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/what-is-art-for/ Thanks again for your beautiful, thoughtful and ever-curious blend of images and words. best, Harold

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