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Art as Therapy

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  2,010 ratings  ·  194 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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4.05  · 
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 ·  2,010 ratings  ·  194 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
Tomas Ramanauskas
Jun 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: art, non-fiction
Here’s a summer book you need: reassuring and coherent. “Art as Theraphy” tackles simple thesis, that art should be a helping hand, a shoulder we can lean on in life.

It doesn’t mean it has only to comfort, or inspire hope, it can be unpleasant, political, shocking, but according to Alain de Botton & John Armstrong, it can and should change/enhance how we experience the world. In other words, it is “a promotion of a sensory understanding of what matters most in life”.

How big, how beautiful.
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
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).
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
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.
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."

Vivek Tejuja
Dec 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
It is the end of the year and I close the year with a book I just finished and cannot stop talking or thinking about – “Art as Therapy” by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong. May be a lot of people know Alain and are aware of what and how he writes and then there are others who are yet to discover his style and works. I envy the latter set of people. They are so lucky to discover his works and his line of thought. At the same time, because this book is co-written, it is always good to see anothe ...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
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
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: re-reading
I absolutely LOVED and Love this book
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
Oct 21, 2018 rated it liked it
The idea of using art as a psychotherapy is new to me and interested me but I can't say I was wowed by this book. I, as a novice philosophy and psychology, enjoy Alain de Botton books mildly and appreciate his efforts in bringing these concepts and their application to our everyday life.
Nov 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
"A sense of the sublime in our ordinary lives is usually a fleeting state, one that occurs more or less at random. On the motorway we catch sight of the sunlight breaking through rain clouds over a distant hill; on a plane we glance away from the in-flight entertainment and notice the Bernese Alps or the lights of oil tankers across the Singapore Strait. Art can mitigate randomness and chance, though, for it provides tools for generating helpful experiences on a reliable basis, so that we can ha ...more
Alex Ehrler
Though I agree with De Botton's belief that art helps us cope with certain "psychological frailties", I find that I cannot agree with his interest it creating a utopian society around art as therapy.

I am an artist, myself, and I create art, yes, to cope with my personal struggles and my conflicts with the world at large... However, De Botton's desire to use art as a tool to "fix" what is wrong in our world today troubles me, deeply. His proposal trivializes what I hold most dear, and makes it so
Feb 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jessica by: Wall St Journal Review
Shelves: art, nonfiction
de Botton and Armstrong helped me to understand why I get so overwhelmed in art's my inability to process my emotions of what I'm seeing as fast as my body is moving. It's also the way museums are period instead of by therapeutic vision i.e. Gallery of Self-Knowledge, Love, Fear, etc.

Their book is enthralling. It is a balanced mix of visual support (a nonfiction book with pictures! Hurrah!) with explanatory prose. If only I had as much time to visit an art museum as I
Jul 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art
I confess I love Alain de Botton's writings. THERE. Here he co-authors with John Armstrong. Knowing how I like his work I was stunned when de Botton sneaked this brilliant book up on me. I had no preconceptions before opening it but then I was blasted by thinking about art that was not only useful but also 'real' and dare I say, therapy in itself! He and John Armstrong outline the 7 functions of art before tackling questions such as "What's it for?", "what counts as good art?" and also the buyin ...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
Aug 07, 2018 rated it did not like it
I may be being a little harsh by giving this book only one star. But I don’t think so. I am sure that other people love this book, clearly it gets good ratings. However I get annoyed when people imagine that they know what was in the brain of an artist while creating artwork. Unless you have read the artist’s diary about that specific painting I don’t think that you can definitively state why the artist chose the topic, style, color etc. The author also repeatedly said what people (museum curato ...more
Roberta Bridget
Mar 30, 2016 rated it liked it
I thought this book had a strong beginning. I liked reading about why art moves people so much, as is does me. The book takes a judgemental lecturing tone however that turned me off a little when describing the business of art. The photos of the works of art were beautiful, interesting, and varied. That was worthwhile. I felt that the point at the beginning of the book, how people are moved and healed by art was the point of the whole book. I think in the end the book digressed into something el ...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
Barry Levene
Nov 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Although a bit pedantic and overly broad, there is a lot to admire in the approach taken to describe the purpose of art. My favorite image is the suggestion that museums should reorganize their art into galleries for emotions, like suffering, love, and fear. Authors Alain de Botton and John Armstrong state that art is "to assist mankind in its search for self-understanding, empathy, consolation, hope, self-acceptance, and fulfilment." The rest of the book tells us why.
Daniel B-G
As with most books by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong, the book veers wildly between the facile and the profound, the naïve and the inspired. Not amongst the strongest offerings, but it was enjoyable.
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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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“Curiosity takes ignorance seriously, and is confident enough to admit when it does not know. It is aware of not knowing, and it sets out to do something about it” 10 likes
“Growth occurs when we discover how to remain authentically ourselves in the presence of potentially threatening things. Maturity is the possession of coping skills: we can take in our stride things that previously would have knocked us off course. We are less fragile, less easily shocked and hence more capable of engaging with situations as they really are” 8 likes
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