Last week I went to Amsterdam to see and review Alain de Botton and John Armstrong’s exhibition “Art is Therapy” at the Rijksmuseum. The immediate result of my trip was a review written and published in the Norwegian newspaper Morgenbladet. (A weekly, national newspaper focused on culture, politics & arts).
For 7 years I have been working as an art critic, and just as long I have been interested in how to best convey visual art through words. How are we to write on art in a way which invites the readers into the seen/scene. As an art critic I am more interested in initiating thoughts and ideas in my reader, than in delivering a judgement. My views will, if I’m successful, be a part of my text, but my goal is never to convince my reader to agree with me, rather I’m interested in getting the reader to reflect upon certain themes, feelings, questions etc., which the artwork in question brings to life.
information overload (from the exhibition)
I got interested in de Botton/Armstrong’s work on art first through their book Art as Therapy. Just as me, they are interested in empowering the public, the viewers. But in opposition to me they seem to be surer in how to go about the challenge, and we clearly differ in what we view as art’s purpose.
A central statement in the “Art is Therapy” exhibition is: do not ask what you can do for art; ask what art can do for you! …
I regard de Botton/Armstrong’s attempt to convince us that art is therapy as a failure. A double failure, in fact:
1) Botton/Armstrong’s selection of works and presentation in the Rijksmuseum is only understandable if you read what the curators have written about the works they have chosen, or if you listen to them on audio-guide. In both cases the curators are much too talkative, leaving little or no room for the viewers own thoughts, filling the therapeutic room with babble.
(I found I had to choose between trying to understand what Alain de Botton thought about the selected artworks, and viewing the works in question. It was impossible to combine the two).
2) The point of a psychological therapy (which I assume is the kind of therapy the two curators have in mind) is not to ask what anyone else (the therapist or art – ) can do for you, the therapy is about how you – yourself – can evolve and improve your own life. The central question should therefore not have been to ask what art can do for you, but what you can do for yourself through art.
I do not think it is a good idea to ask what art can du for you, rather one should try to see how one, through art, can broaden ones own understanding of the world in a wide sense, that is life – as a personal, collective, historic and contemporary experience.
I do not see de Botton/Armstrong’s lack of success as a reason to stop searching for better ways to write about art. But for my own part, its time for a detour – I’m going back to my previous studies of Ekphrasis
ekphrasis (greek) literally, description, from ekphrazein to recount, describe, from ex- out + phrazein to point out, explain
sketcher, reader, writer