I’m reading Art as Therapy by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong, a resource from the folks at The School of Life. The premise of the book is that art is actually FOR certain things. And by certain, they mean these 7 things in particular: remembering, hope, sorrow, rebalancing, self-understanding, growth, appreciation. A quick video introduction to these ideas can be found here: What is Art FOR?

I want to focus here on the idea of art as rebalancing. This can be thought of on a personal, cultural, or historical level. We are drawn to what we lack, and this can be seen in the art we appreciate. This is fascinating. The book says it this way: “Art can put us in touch with concentrated doses of our missing dispositions…” I love that. And because we are missing different things, we are drawn to different things.

This idea helps build empathy and understanding. We are surrounded by vocal critics ready to proclaim things stupid or pointless or worse. Why? Because at that moment, because of who that person is, they aren’t drawn to that particular idea or art or whatever. If you look closely at lives and contexts it all makes more sense.

Watch how de Botton an Armstrong explain it:

A grasp of the psychological mechanism behind taste will not necessarily change our sense of what we find beautiful, but it can prevent us from reacting to what we don’t like with simple disparagement. We should know to ask at once what people lack in order to see a given object as beautiful, and can come to appreciate their choices, even if we cannot muster any personal enthusiasm for them.

Art as Therapy, pg. 37

This idea is a great tool for empathy and understanding. I just realized too how much I loathe “simple disparagement” whereas complex, nuanced, and considered disparagement is often quite intriguing and enlightening. What kind of disparagement do you like?

I appreciate ideas like this one, art being a tool for rebalancing and a rationale for why we are drawn to certain things. Ideas like these can help us understand more about these mysterious lives we live in the strange realities we inhabit.


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