Alain de Botton on Art as Therapy

This is an amazing talk given by Alain de Botton who is a Swiss/British writer and philosopher (among many other talents), is well know for discussing philosophy’s relevance to everyday life. When you have a spare moment, spend the 40 plus minutes and soak up his many insights. It is quite rewarding. He is an incredible speaker.

Alain posits that “. . . culture can fill the gaps left by the departure of religion in modern life and art can help us with the problems of the soul. I believe that art should be propaganda on behalf of something else, not theology, but psychology. I believe that art should serve the needs of our psyche as efficiently and as clearly as it served the needs of theology for hundreds of years.”

Here are a few of his main points and quotes from his talk.

1. Art is a tool for memory. Art is a bucket that holds our experiences and our emotions. It also draws our attention to those things that are most significant and opens us to facets of the world which would otherwise be invisible.
2. Art has a very important function in giving us hope. Art is a life raft to ferry us through darkness and prettiness is part of its mission.
3. Art reminds us that we are not alone in our suffering. Art provides us with moments of communion around the dark realities of our lives, in a way that is eloquent and dignified. Art is like putting on a Leonard Cohen CD when things are bad. It doesn’t drag us down. It brings us up by acknowledging that we’re all in this together
4. Art can rebalance us. Art is a rebalancing agent. The kind of art that moves us and draws us in, is very often a work of art that our unconscious recognizes contains a concentrated dose of our missing virtues. What are we missing? What are we afraid of? What have we lost touch with?
5. Art is fantastic propaganda tool on behalf of the good. Art can stir us, motivate us. The problem about life is not that we don’t know what being good or kind, or meaningful involves or is, but that we aren’t motivated to act on the knowledge that lies sterile within us. And the point of art is to get us motivated.
6. We need role models around us in order to keep us on track. Art does this. Many works of art have a philosophy of life within them.
7. Works of art have always attempted to open our eyes to the neglected value of the everyday. Art helps us to re-see certain jaded aspects of our lives that we’ve grown spoiled about.
8. Art can induct us toward essential truths of life. We are creatures that lose perspective easily, producing great anxiety. Our eye is stilled in front of something huge, dignified and beautiful.
9. Art allows us to rediscover the virtues and values in each other. Art expands the conversation. It makes us less lonely with the more sad and private parts of us. Art reminds us that love is an attempt to harmonize the jagged, to regularize the irregular. Art reminds us of the failure of curiosity in modern life and the desperate need to remain curious.
10. Art helps us to feel proud and involved with our community.
11. Art is very good at showing us how things can be.
12. And finally, art is a living resource for our hearts. Not just an academic or historical exercise.

I hope you enjoy this talk as much as I did. So many kernels of wisdom, so lovingly presented.