What Is Art?

By: Ipek Kozanoglu


The recent release of Alain de Botton’s paperback edition of Art as Therapy inspired me to write about this intriguing book by this fantastic philosopher. Last year, I came across an informative as well as entertaining way of learning about history, literature, philosophy and art. Today, I would like to share this with you, especially those of you who want to understand any of these subjects. My focus is primarily art.

‘Last Rays of Sun’, Paul Hoecker (1900) The title suggests the idea of leaving hopes and dreams behind. The woman gazing idly by the trees has the power to form a connection with the observer, who might also be sharing similar emotions. 

‘Last Rays of Sun’, Paul Hoecker (1900)

The title suggests the idea of leaving hopes and dreams behind. The woman gazing idly by the trees has the power to form a connection with the observer, who might also be sharing similar emotions. 

Firstly, I want to raise the following question: what is art for? As a current student of Art History, I often wonder about this question. Art is a way of making sense of the world when it doesn’t really make sense for us. It might serve to teach us a lesson, or provide us with some kind of moral message. But, it is also a way of making us feel like we are understood and do not stand alone in our pain, misery or failures in life. Even though we might not know who the artist has depicted in a painting or where it is set, we can almost always connect to people who are shown to display basic human emotions. Art can mean different things to different people. But there is always a point of connection between art and human beings. The paintings in this article made me think differently about the subject of art.

Alain de Botton, a philosopher of our times, is the founder of The School of Life. He discusses the modern world’s anxieties and problems, famous concepts and people, along with periods throughout history. De Botton’s book, Art as Therapy, which he co-wrote with John Armstrong, outlines in greater depth what I discussed earlier concerning the nature of art, and what it can be used for. However, he also addresses other problems that both society and the individual contend with by placing them in one of three categories: love, nature, and money and politics. There are a number of different artworks from different time periods which allude to the issues discussed in these categories. It is a wonderful book for anyone who is interested in, or confused and bewildered about the world’s simplest questions. I’d also recommend it for anyone who simply has a love affair with art! The book does not require much previous knowledge about art, since de Botton explains every concept with abundant detail. I would also recommend this book to anyone who is wondering about art in general.

‘The Muse at Sunrise’, Alphonse Osbert (1918)

Just because we witnessed the ‘Last Rays of Sun’ doesn’t mean that we won’t get to witness a new sunrise. Our hopes and dreams might seem like they have been washed away. But you never know where you’ll find a new opportunity. With a new day comes a new beginning. 

For those interested, check out The School of Life channel on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/schooloflifechannel 

Here you can find many videos about revolutionary historical periods, such as the Renaissance and Romanticism, alongside videos on famous writers and philosophers, including Leo Tolstoy and Jean-Jacques Rousseau to name a few. These personages and periods are explained in a very entertaining and fun way by Botton himself, and will help you to familiarise yourself with them.

'The Lanterns', Charles Courtney Curran (1913)

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