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Art as Therapy

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  3,001 ratings  ·  296 reviews
What is art for? In the engaging, lively, and controversial new book, bestselling philosopher Alain de Botton, with art historian John Armstrong, proposes a new way of looking at art, suggesting that it can be useful, relevant, and - above all else - therapeutic for its audiences.

De Botton argues that certain great works of art offer clues on managing the tensions and conf
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published October 14th 2013 by Phaidon Press
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Average rating 4.07  · 
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 ·  3,001 ratings  ·  296 reviews

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Apr 18, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: art
This book is simplistic, maddening, provocative, and eccentric. It is also Utopian, contradictory and overly-ambitious.... Finally, it is also fun, stimulating and refreshing.... For me this book is all of these things.

Alain de Bottan and John Armstrong argue that we need artists to teach us about the loves, fears and foibles of the human condition. Of course a lot of artists do that already, but they want them to do it MORE. They also feel that we (the great unwashed public), need to listen mor
Nov 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art
This is the art book I've been looking for. It talks about the purpose of art alongside a few key paintings and doesn't treat art like a science with dates, historical context, and isms that are detailed and ultimately forgettable. There are some really itneresting ideas scattered throughout, such as a museum organised by emotional states instead of chronology, and how art can make us better lovers (by teaching us patience, attention to details, and curiosity). ...more
Geri Degruy
Apr 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
de Botton and Armstrong posit that art can be helpful to our lives in a number of psychological ways. They outline seven functions of art:

1. Remembering
2. Hope
3. Sorrow
4. Rebalancing
5. Self-understanding
6. Growth
7. Appreciation

How can art help us to love better? How can it prepare us for aging and other life changes? What if museums were set up with emotion-galleries: of joy, love, sorrow, compassion? What if the blurbs next to the art discussed the turmoil or joys the models were experiencing r
Oct 15, 2014 rated it it was ok
The book is an interesting provocation to those of us that work in the visual arts. De Botton and Armstrong’s chief criticism of curators and art historians is that we don’t make art relevant or accessible to audiences. On that score, they make a very good and useful point. The popularity of this book demonstrates their case.

The trouble is the solution the book proposes is a very utilitarian approach to art. According to the authors we should look at art to solve our personal problems, rather t
Andrew Durkin
Jan 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
A useful exploration of the ethical possibilities of art. These sentences, toward the end, really summed it up for me:

"Proper appreciation of the benefits of art must involve an awareness of when to put art aside. At a certain point, we should leave the museum, or the sculpture in the park, to pursue the true purpose of art, the reform of life; not because we are ungrateful or unappreciative, but because we have found much that is genuinely precious in art, and that we need to make more real."

Judith Huang
Oct 15, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
Although the idea behind the book: that art should be used to improve humanity - is intriguing, I found the lecturing style of the prose to be tiresome and self-righteous in a particular, post-enlightenment effete intellectual atheist way. De Botton seems to imply that he knows best for everyone. While I enjoyed his interpretations of art and objects, they are pretty idiosyncratic and any museum curated by him would be way too propagandistic for my tastes.
Dec 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'll be honest, there's a lot in here that de Botton and Armstrong say that I just don't agree with. But this will a very interesting read with a lot of perspectives that I'd never thought of before. I'll definitely be taking the seven functions of art on board if nothing else. ...more
Gaylord Dold
Jan 28, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Art lovers; psychology majors
de Botton, Alain; Armstrong, John. Art as Therapy, Phaidon Press Ltd., London and New York, 2013 (239pp. $39.95)

At the turn of the 20th century an Arts and Crafts movement, born in England as a response to the ailments of the Industrial Revolution and its factory slavery and inferior material culture, had spread to the United States the gospel of good taste and self-fulfillment through the creation and appreciation of beautiful objects. Through technical education and the promotion of quality pr
Kara Pangilinan
May 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
“There is nothing strange about an artist helping you relate more successfully to death, get on better with your children or manage problems with money. We need to move beyond thinking of an artist as someone at an easel.”

There is so much truth in this book! It took me a while to finish because of the information overload and all the notes and highlights I took and made throughout. A+ insights. Would definitely read this book again.
Rita Walton
Jan 18, 2021 rated it really liked it
I found this book extremely interesting and sort of radical. It really is a manual on how to be, how to live your life. But it's lovely and compassionate. I wasn't familiar with Alain de Botton, but when I discussed him with my sister and said that I thought this book operated from a really different perspective, she said all Alain de Botton's books are like that in a sort of dismissive way. But I felt this was a meaningful work and it gives good reference points for us to think about our roles ...more
Tina Matin
Oct 04, 2018 rated it did not like it
About this book., I should say I've learned and gained very little if anything. Of course I enjoyed revisiting some art pieces that are very dear and precious to me and not being admired as much by non artists around me. But, there was nothing new, the arguments and titles could have been much deeper both in terms of content and form. This book, for me at least, did more of organizational work rather than intellectual, meaning that it put what I new in better shelving in my mind but unfortunatel ...more
Dec 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Thank you, AdB and JA, for opening my eyes further than I thought possible (like pretty much all of AdB's books), and not just with something that I'd never thought about, but with something that had always presented quite a struggle. This book presents a way -- a true 'via real' -- out of the swamp of illogic, pedantry, gibberish and fraudulent posturing that characterize most professional writing about art from the critical, academic, and commercial sectors. The book is lucid, logical, and ins ...more
Jan 18, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-in-2014, art
Ugh. Pompous, pretentious. One unsupported assertion after another. … As a result of this reading experience, I deleted another title of his from my to-read shelf: The News: A User's Manual
Anna Belsham
Started off enjoying this and then the point that art can help us with life's stresses and tribulations got so tenuous it broke.

I can see why Gwyneth Paltrow liked it.
Megha Sharma
Jun 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I was walking across great works of art in National Art Gallery, in Westminster, central London, wondering how am I supposed to make sense of all this, because appreciating this just because other people do and because it has an aesthetic value did not cut it for me. So, Like a good student that I am, I collected the pamphlets and read about the relevance, history, significance of each painting as I walked by. It felt like I was in my own wonderland, with no knowledge of art and brief introducti ...more
Josh Marks
Mar 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is a passionate, sustained manifesto for what art is and for what art could be, particularly in relation to the ways it can impact and nurture human psyche, love, money, politics, taste, and social groups.

The book so nearly merits five stars, except for one issue. On rare occasion, some ideas - like the praise of honour - are naive. Yes, honour can engage humans in goals nobler than their ordinary selves. But it can also make us stubborn, defensive, and prone to fits of violence. For
Jan 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book was an enjoyable experience from start to end. It groups the value of art and how to appreciate art, together with select examples of various art work and specific historical contexts of these pieces, by theme. So you have work, love, politics etc. I particularly enjoyed the theme of love and found almost every sentence poignant— I hurried to take notes like a good student. Probably the least enjoyable chapter is politics because I did not agree with how he suddenly weaves in the topic ...more
Apr 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
We should think less about art and more about how to bring the values that the pieces portray out into the world. This book has given me an interesting perspective of art and its practical application on our lives and society.
Will Ford
Oct 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This seemed like a psychology self-help book more than a book about art. Coming from Australia, I can really relate to this book. Everything in my city (Melbourne) is modern and functional, yet despite being The Economist's most livable city several years in a row, it's not actually a very aesthetic city to live in. ...more
Hristina Lapatova
Jul 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art
It was a true delight to read this book. Definitely recommend to any art lover
Sep 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
What can I say? This book ticks my boxes. Philosophising on art and life and how they interact... it's my jam. ...more
Jun 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
4,5 / 5 | Such a nice and interesting way to recognize art; really helpful to know about all those things in my opinion. If you are one of those people who think art is not important: reading this book will change your mind!
Jan 09, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Love the therapeutical aspects, not so much the political agenda.
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: re-reading
I absolutely LOVED and Love this book
Lex J.
Dec 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A solid read to both expand your understanding and interest levels in Art.
I really do prefer this to his other novel on Proust.
Mar 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Enjoyable to read. I’m not an expert in philosophy and Critical Theory, but I feel there were many contradiction and the author makes many presumptions and assumption however astutely written they may be.
Still worth reading.
David Ball
Apr 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alain de Botton is never short of ideas. In fact Art as Therapy is chock full of them: some good, some less good. What works this time around? I quite liked his seven functions of Art: remembering, hope, sorrow, rebalancing, self-understanding, growth, and appreciation. Each theme is illustrated by a number of works of art carefully chose by de Botton and, I assume, John Armstrong. I’ve always enjoy de Botton’s perspective - he has a way of pointing things out I haven’t seen before and teasing o ...more
Danielle Frimer
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Yup. A clear call to action for artists. Refer back to this when wondering "why" and also for ideas of "what" (Appendix at the back). Interesting stuff to chew on about how the purpose of artists (like therapists) should be for a world where less art (/therapy) is necessary. Also found the section on careers interesting/confusing. Don't make a career in art, he seems to say, but apply the values of artists/art to other domains - business, policy, tech (to extend...) This is where beauty/truth/ki ...more
Mar 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A beautifully crafted set of articles, aligned with Alain de Button’s famously known practical interests, to show how Art can help us to be better humans and having a better society. “Art as Therapy” certainly is a must-read book which may transform the way we confront with the Art in its various forms. A book that amazingly and paradoxically leads to its final lines that “The ultimate goal of the art lover should be to build a world where works of art have become a little less necessary”.
Jan 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Midway through Art as Therapy I started having deja vu. I remembered that I read another Alain de Botton book like ten years ago and I ended up with the same feeling of, oh wow, these could be really interesting and compelling ideas if they a) weren't so didactic, and b) if they were better supported. I mean, I love art and I meditate and de Botton does make a pretty fair attempt to show how art can illustrate some ideas that come out of mindfulness and the Buddhist philosophy that ultimately un ...more
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Alain de Botton is a writer and television producer who lives in London and aims to make philosophy relevant to everyday life. He can be contacted by email directly via

He is a writer of essayistic books, which refer both to his own experiences and ideas- and those of artists, philosophers and thinkers. It's a style of writing that has been termed a 'philosophy of everyday li

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