Looking at art, Rijksmuseum, July 2014, Pt3
Alain de Botton and John Armstrong have applied the theory of their book ‘Art Is Therapy to 150 works in the Rijkmuseum. Set aside rooms have themes like politics, sex, money, and memory.
“The art establishment downplays emotional or psychological readings of pictures – even though these are the principal ways in which people actually engage with art.” de Botton
At the Linen Closet (1663) by Pieter de Hooch
“In this modest domestic scene by the 17th-century Dutch genre painter Pieter de Hooch, we see a couple of women busy with a household task. There are no soldiers, kings, martyrs or divine figures in sight; this is ordinary life as we know it to this day . . . If only, like De Hooch, we knew how to recognise the value of ordinary routine, many of our burdens would be lifted. It gives voice to the right attitude: the big themes of life – the search for prosperity, happiness, good relationships – are always grounded in the way we approach little things.”
I am a huge fan of De Hooch, but only his Delft period. When he went to Amsterdam, his work got darker, the interiors richer and for me the paint lost its allure. So I didn’t bother recording this picture.
A better example would be from earlier in his career.
“Serenity, concentration, and order aren’t luxuries. They aren’t a superficial concern for a particular style of interior decoration; they are preconditions for a thoughtful, balanced life. The picture sends a slightly stern, but welcome message: you have to fight off distraction, it can ruin your life; you have to prioritize ruthlessly; entertainment is the enemy; simplify, get rid of what you don’t really need; don’t check your email all the time; focus is an achievement. Saenredam didn’t just paint a church, he painted an attitude to life. Sickness – My life revolves around business, distraction, chaos, Twitter.”
Alain de Botton misses what we look at art for – the surprises, the sensuality, the playfulness and wonder, the attention to details- all of which can enrich emotional responses to an art work.
“A lot of emotional responses to art are available to people from a postcard. This is an idea that museums are desperately resistant to, because the whole edifice immediately falls when you say that you can pick up between 80 and 90% by looking at a poster. I think we should start valuing art like literature. The original of, say, Ulysses costs a certain amount and every other edition costs £9.99 – yet it’s considered fine to have the £9.99 copy. As punters, we are absurdly obsessed by original works of art – and we shouldn’t be.” Alain de Botton