Taken From “Art As Therapy” at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
For the next few weeks I’m going to take you on a virtual museum tour of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, where Paul and I spent our last day before returning home. It’s not going to be the usual kind of tour, with lots of images and analysis. I’ll focus on only one painting per post, and the analysis will come from the museum’s show called “Art as Therapy,” written by John Armstrong and Alain de Botton. (Finally, a museum talks my language!) I have also decided to do two posts a week for the duration of the series. They will be on Tuesday and Thursday. I am excited to share what I learned with you.
My favorite periods of art are 19th Century Impressionism, the Dutch Masters, and early American art, but I usually can’t tell you any more than ‘I like that one!’ This might seem odd, as I grew up with museum art at home. Many sophisticated art curators, museum directors and collectors came through my parents’ home, but rather than learn from them, I felt ashamed of my ignorance and tuned out their conversations (along with what felt like their need for approval from my parents.)
This show highlights many well known paintings, and some lesser known. Each one dispels a myth about art and life, creating a bridge between art and self-exploration. After all, isn’t art a form of self-exploration? I will share ones that correlate with subjects that most spoke to me. The writing in italics is a direct quote from the show.
“Only idiots like pretty, sweet things.”
“Educated people today quite often feel a bit queasy at the idea that art can be sweet and lovely. [They might argue], isn’t this a denial of all that is wrong with the world? Shouldn’t art be about more weighty and worthy matters?”
Van Looy knew a lot about human suffering – he lost both parents when he was five.
“Once we have known suffering, beauty is a consolation. We need beauty around us to keep up our spirits and to refresh our appetite for life. Cheerfulness – the mood that beauty naturally encourages – is a good state of mind to be able to access, given the number of practical problems we have to face. A taste for pretty art isn’t a denial of the troubles of the world; it shows a wise awareness of the extent of suffering and a concern for bolstering oneself against despair.”
This message validates my own belief in the importance of beauty. Beauty helps us to access love, spirit and joy. Imagine a beautiful young woman, a prayer of gratitude, a tree bathed in ocher light, or the perfect little toes on a newborn infant. Yet for everything there is an opposite.
Beauty is often used in advertising, to seduce us into thinking we need to buy a new skin product to make us look young again, or a new car, TV, or kitchen gadget to help us keep up with our neighbors.
I think you know by now, if you’ve been reading my blogs, that this kind of beauty is not what I aspire to, but I both want and need my version of beauty as an essential ingredient in my life. Examples are the peonies around my circle drive, the teal color of the walls in my living room, or the floral print on my scarf. Whatever you or I have suffered from, beauty, like a warm hand on a cold day, is a panacea.
What role does beauty play in your life?
What kind of art speaks to you most?