Art as a Healing Salve in Hectic Times

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 Take time to smell the roses, and don’t forget to enjoy the artwork.

In their new book, Art as Therapy, (Phaidon) Alain de Botton and John Armstrong beautifully articulate how art can help us deal with life’s key challenges such as our longing for love and our need for hope.

Like music and literature, the authors show how art is an apothecary for the soul. One way to have this emotional, therapeutic affect from artwork is to take classic works of art off their lofty pedestal and make an emotional connection with the art, based on where you are in your life. Its almost like moving aside the museum stanchions that separate us from the artwork.

For example, when viewing a luscious Banquet Still Life by Adriaen van Utrecht we are invited to think about abundance and how these vegetables and lemons made their way to our tables, rather than just taking them for granted.

In The Twilight of Life by Canadian painter Sydney Tully we see an elderly woman and notice the artist’s generosity as she took the time to see this woman, wondering who was she, what was she like in her younger, vibrant years. Looking at a painting this way reminds us to open ourselves to compassion for others and to look beneath the surface.  Lastly in Matisse’s The Dance we are inspired to clasp the hands of another person and join the circle.

More than putting pretty works of art on a pedestal, the authors show how taking a moment to stop and connect with artwork and the artists that created the artwork can allow us to experience intense responsiveness to beauty, meaning and, perhaps, our own humanity. The work of art may remind us what is missing from our hyperactive, 24/7 connected lives while providing a luxurious respite into another reality. Appreciation of beauty activates our sense of awe and transcendence, allowing us to live our lives more deeply and purposefully.