I attended a book club talk at the Queensland University of Technology Art Museum on Alain de Botton's and John Armstrong's book "Art as Therapy". Though I am yet to read it, I was able to follow the conversation/discussion/debate. From the group of about 30 people, there seemed to be much contention around the authors' style of writing and pitch to the audience. It seems unanimous amongst the group the authors frequently addressed different audiences and was targeted at art enthusiasts and elitists on the matter of art education. A majority of the book club participants despised the tone of Alain de Botton and contested much of his philosophical opinion, as he has written with art specialist knowledge but not the background to back up his theory. Also, much like his other books, he has a generic 'formula' approach to his philosophy.
What I found interesting about the discussion was the authors' focus on art as therapy for the viewer NOT the maker. The point of the book was to give the viewer 'seven' tools for reading or understanding art and the emotional state which you feel from the artwork, whether good or bad. My point to this is, the authors are just one opinion, one perspective and everything should be taken with a grain of salt and people should seek 2nd and 3rd opinions on matters to deduce their own opinion.
However, this brings me to my next topic as addressed in the book by de Botton, that "people without much of an education in art tend to think that art should be about pretty things". In response to this very point, being able to read or understand art is a learned and taught knowledge. It is not inherent that people can analyse a work of art AND even if they do it is subjective. Unless the artist themself writes about their own work and the meaning behind it, it is all speculative. That said, isn't it the role of public institutions these days to 'educate' the public. And the answer is yes to a degree. Many institutions have taken it upon themselves to have resources and a public program. That in itself could be contentious in that people may take the curator's point of view as being pressed on them, however, just as one should not take de Botton's and Armstrong's opinion is fact, nor should they of the curator's essay. The difference is, a Gallery (the Curator) will research the Artist and the background to the work and provide statements on implied or interpreted intention.
There are many people, the public, who visit galleries and rely on the gallery tours, audio or visual information, catalogue, exhibition panel and didactics to help inform their viewing. Often the problem is that some of this 'helpful' information is becoming too 'academic' for the audience it was intended for, and many non-art educated people I have spoken to say they read the children's didactics due to ease of readability and understanding. The way in which the viewer may approach this is to read the information first and then look at the work or vice-versa. Some Galleries or Curators might be opposed to having information at all for the viewer as they want the work to 'speak' for itself. In the end, it is up to the viewer to choose to read the information or part-take in any other form of exhibition education and accept what has been provided.
None the less, I feel the mixed reviews about the book 'Art as Therapy' and how the topic is about the viewer not the maker is still a mental debate in my mind if I should read it and support the celebrity nature of de Botton as described by the book club enthusiasts as him being.
If you have read the book, feel free to leave your comments on what you liked and didn't like about the book.