The philosopher, author and academic John Armstrong takes a deep breath. I’ve obviously hit a nerve. In quoting Paul Auster, ‘Art is something useless and beautiful that makes us feel human,’ I’ve opened up a deliciously provocative can of worms.
“People who say, “Oh art is useless, but I love it,” they don’t actually think art is useless,” says John. “‘Useful’ is something that achieves a purpose that’s valuable to us. And art does exactly that. There isn’t an issue here. It’s just a linguistic confusion. It’s not a serious point of dispute.”
We’re talking about John’s latest book Art as Therapy. Co-written with philosopher Alain de Botton, the book proposes that art has a clear function. Art is a therapeutic tool that helps us better understand ourselves and lead more fulfilled lives. Art as Therapy asks, ‘What is art for, why does it matter and, particularly, why should art matter to you?’
“For many reasons people writing about art run away from that question, fudge it or get vague or mystical about it,” says John. “I’ve done plenty of it myself. I’m speaking from experience here. But in this particular book, we’ve made a very bold move to try and pin down a sensible and definite answer about how art makes a difference to people and through that, to society.”
Interview and words by Melita Rowston
Images by Dan Cripps