Recently, I took a moment to watch The School of Life video titled Why You NEED to Visit an Art Museum. It is a short YouTube video that you can see here. The video presents the viewer with two questions:
What is art for, and why should it matter so much?
It then goes on to propose the following:
“…, the purpose of art is therapeutic.”
“Art is there to lend inspiration and consolation in relation to a number of the challenges of being human.”
“Art helps us to cope with, among other things, our inability to focus on what’s beautiful and precious in life; our tendency to caricature others and forget about their sufferings.”
For the sake of argument, let’s agree that the purpose of art is therapeutic.
Art museums are generally quiet places where one can stand or sit and contemplate, ruminate, or find solace among the works of master painters, sculptors, and antiquities. For some, the experience can be described as “therapeutic.”
However, as an artist, I find the act of painting therapeutic. It is the exploration, creation, and expression that is restorative. It is the act of creating a work of art that helps me cope and focus on what is beautiful and precious in life.
Art is subjective. Creating art requires action. Artists don’t paint for an audience (unless commissioned to do so); we paint for ourselves. And, if you know anything about the lives of artists such as van Goth, Picasso, and Bacon (to name a few), very few of us would consider them therapists.
From there, the video asserts, “Art has a healing function…an art museum should be: an institution that displays and arranges art in ways that can steal its audiences.”
The assertion here is that if the function of art is therapeutic, then museums should be like going to a therapist’s office. Art should be “rearranged according to the distinctive troubles of the soul.”
LACMA tried this in 2020, and I found it disappointing. I, like many art enthusiasts, enjoy the history of art. I find the history and evolution of art inspirational.
Galleries separate art into time periods so visitors can see the progression and evolution of painting styles and techniques.
Visit the Norton Simon Museum and walk through the galleries of paintings displayed in chronological order. You will see how the styles and genes changed and progressed over time.
Themed museums seem to be pop culture or “in fashion.” They seem easy, boring, and redundant. If you visit a museum and feel confused by what you’re seeing, that’s OK. Maybe that’s the artist’s point. Maybe the artist isn’t speaking to you, so go find one that does. Question why you like one artist as opposed to another.
Creating “functional” museums does not represent art. Art is about freedom of expression and thought. A “functional” museum displaying art to help you cope with anxiety is someone else’s interpretation of how your anxiety feels. Paint your own.
Go to an art museum. Wander around. Be confused, be soothed, be bored. Art is a reflection of the artist’s thoughts and experiences. Hold their work up as a mirror of how you think and feel. Do you see your reflection? Does their work resonate with you? If not, move on.
If you need help understanding what you’re looking at, research it. Ask a docent. Take a tour. Art isn’t meant to be easy. Art is as complex as the humans who create it. It reflects the artist’s world, their understanding, and experiences of societal stimulation.
It is a necessary, personal means of expression. How it functions, whether therapeutic or not, is up to you.