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Why Art

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Why Art
What to Hang on Your Wall

            Alain de Botton is co-author of the book “Art as Therapy” and recently wrote the article “Art for Life’s Sake” in the Wall Street Journal. In it he suggests that art lovers take a personal approach to the art they see in galleries and put up on their walls. Like music, he explains, art can be uplifting.

            In his article for the Wall Street Journal, Alain de Botton takes issue with the intellectual position that art exists purely “for art’s sake,” without any further purpose. He claims that art has what he calls therapeutic value, similar to music or literature. When people choose and hang up a work of art because it speaks to them on a personal level, they may see it several times a day and examine it more closely perhaps once a month. Their lives can be a little bit richer as a result.

            Mr. de Botton analyses several specific examples of how paintings might affect their owners but the part of the article about Claude Monet’s “Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies” is most relevant in demonstrating how art can be uplifting. He notes that people “of taste and sohistication” look down on this kind of work as too pretty and sentimental in a world that has many problems. But, he says, the pretty depiction of Monet’s pond is precisely the point.

            Monet bought the land with a small creek and created the pond and the bridge at least partially as an inspiration for his painting. He painted about a dozen similar paintings, one of which is shown below. The works hang in various galleries and collections around the globe.

            It is magical that anyone can go to a gallery in London or New York and view one of these paintings, painted more than 100 years ago. But to appreciate it on a personal level, you have to separate out the different elements. Some people might examine the choice of colours, the detail of the work, how he achieved the shimmering of the bridge and the cascading of the trees in the background. Gardeners might marvel at the whole scene, the lush gardens and the delicate bridge, knowing the time and effort it takes to create such gardens. Others might ponder on Monet himself, his life, what made him spend his money to create a subject for his painting. Intellectually, the painting is a masterpiece for specific reasons. On a personal level, it can mean different things to each viewer.

            While viewing works of art in galleries can be rewarding, choosing art that speaks to you personally for your home is another matter. Most people want art that has at least the quality delivered by a professional artist before they are willing to explore whether a work speaks to them on a personal level.

            The federal government often has a need for professional services and has a useful definition for professionalism. In its most general form, the government defines a professional as someone who has training specific to the profession, is accepted as a professional by others in the profession, spends a substantial amount of time exercising the profession and generates an income from it.

            Once you have identified an artist as a professional, you can choose a work that means something to you. The subject of the painting is important but is not the only aspect of the work that could engage you on a personal level. Perhaps you like the artist, the artist’s lifestyle or beliefs. Perhaps you admire the precision of the work, how the artist achieves the shading and the contrasts or how the colors jump out at you. Perhaps the painting reminds you how to resolve personal issues in life. Ideally, a painting you hang on your wall has some of each of these factors, for you personally and for other family members.