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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

Quick: How Does This Picture Make You Feel?

“Too often, when people walk into a museum, they secretly think, I can’t see the point of this,” says bestselling author Alain de Botton. In his new book, Art as Therapy, de Botton aims to take the “snob factor” out of art and shows that great works can give anyone a new perspective on life. Here’s what he says three famous pieces have to tell us.

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Courtesy Phaidon Press Inc.

The Ordinary is Extraordinary

Woman in Blue Reading a Letter:  Johannes Vermeer, c. 1663
“Vermeer celebrates everyday life: Here, a woman who seems nice stands by the window and reads a letter. It wasn’t simple to paint that picture, but the message is quite simple: Ordinary life is OK. We’re so surrounded by images of glamour that we’re constantly made to feel that our own lives are not as important. Vermeer shows that ordinary life and people are beautiful and interesting.”

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Courtesy Phaidon Press Inc.

There’s Hope in Beauty

The Water-Lily Pond:  Claude Monet, 1899
“This Monet (and variations of it) is one of the most popular works in the world. Sometimes the art elite get offended that people prefer pretty paintings. They say, ‘What about war, what about crisis …?’ I see it a different way. Pretty images give us hope and an ability to get on with life. Sometimes a work of beauty can give you encouragement to get through the next five minutes.”

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Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust/Corbis/courtesy Phaidon Press Inc.

A Moment’s Peace

Aspens, Dawn, Autumn, Dolores River Canyon, Colorado: Ansel Adams, 1937
“Art can also make us feel less alone with the melancholy stuff of life. This Ansel Adams image has a sad message, which is that seasons wax and wane, and we’re all fated to go the way of the leaves. What do we do with that sadness? Adams’s photograph creates a space where our melancholy and anxious feelings can be held, almost like a loved one hugging you. And that gives us a moment of peace, calm, and restoration.”

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Art As Therapy (Phaidon Press)

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Take in more than 200 pages of art therapy with Botton’s book here.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest