There should be no doubt, De Botton has a totally instrumentalist view of art, which many of us – especially artist I would believe, oppose.
But it might first be necessary to amplify, it is not art, but the art world, that should be didactic:
DE BOTTON: There are lots of attacks on the art world, from all sorts of directions. People say the art world is pretentious, people say it’s a close-knit coterie driving up prices; you could criticize it from many different angles. Ultimately, the art world doesn’t make it easy for people to use art in the way it should be used, which is to negotiate the great challenges of life. I think that art has a great therapeutic dimension, and the art world doesn’t help you find your way to that.
de Bottons critique is not directed towards any kind of art, he uses art from many kinds of epochs and genres as examples in his book, what he is questioning, are the institutions where art are shown and discussed, including universities and the media.
So, lets go back to instrumentalism:
DE BOTTON: Totally instrumentalist. It’s very unfashionable but I’m totally into instrumentalism, 100%. And some people go, “Well, you’re using it this way but what if someone else wants to use it this way and another way?” And I think that’s great — there’s not just one instrumentalism. People get offended by instrumentalism because they think they need to say, “Richard Serra means this” or, “Gauguin is that,” whereas it’s actually more like, “Well you could go this way with Richard Serra, or that way, or that way.” There are many paths, but the point is you want to go somewhere with it, and you should be able to say where.