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Art as Therapy Hardcover – Oct 14 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Phaidon Press (Oct. 14 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0714865915
  • ISBN-13: 978-0714865911
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 2.5 x 27.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 Kg
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #73,931 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description



"One of the most intellectually exciting books I have read this year. . . full of illumination and insights. . . The four teenagers to whom I gave the book have all been thrilled by the sense that art isn’t the preserve of high priests. Best of all, I took my student son to the Rijksmuseum and, utterly absorbed, he said he would never look at art the same way again. De Botton is throwing open a door and doing what art ought to do: making us think and feel afresh. I hope many people step through it." – The Times

"A highly optimistic vision. . .roams widely through subjects as immense as love, nature, money and politics. De Botton and Armstrong's examination of love is most rewarding." – Royal Academy of Arts

"Asking the questions that always swirl through your mind when striding around Tate Modern. . . Art as Therapy massages the mind in all the right places." – Vanity Fair on Art

"It’s like going back to college, but in a good way. . . A little bit like dipping in to a modern day Gombrich albeit through the eyes of Oprah. . . A really entertaining and thought‐provoking look at the role that art plays – or could play – in our lives. . . Part philosophy, part art history, the book takes work that is considered by many to be lofty and rarified, and relates it to our everyday lives. [Art as Therapy] makes the reader consider the work far more intensely and deeply than perhaps we otherwise would." – A Little Bird

"A true meditation on the power art has to transform our lives." – The Mayfair Magazine

"The beautifully designed and illustrated book, Art as Therapy argues for a new way of using art to help us with a variety of psychological ills." – The School of Life


About the Author


Alain de Botton (b.1969) is the author of bestselling books in more than 30 countries, including The Consolations of Philosophy, How Proust Can Change Your Life, Status Anxiety, and most recently Religion for Atheists. He founded The School of Life in London in 2008, which supplies good ideas for everyday life in the form of courses, classes, workshops and talks. In 2009 he founded Living Architecture, which aims to make high‐quality architecture accessible to everyone.

John Armstrong (b.1966) is a British philosopher and art historian based at Melbourne University. He is the author of five well‐received books, including The Intimate Philosophy of Art, Conditions of Love: The Philosophy of Intimacy, and In Search of Civilisation: Remaking a Tarnished Idea.


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Alexander Parij on Aug. 23 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Confusing mumblings. It's not about philosophy or art. I bought this book having watched and liked his lectures but this books is a complete disappointemnt
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Donald L. Combe on Oct. 26 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
de Boton has a unique view of whatever subject he chooses to investigate. He makes approacable the unapproachable.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Sassella on Oct. 26 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Very interesting ideas, clearly presented offering an approach to art that is both meaningful and accessible.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Doris Vandenbrekel on May 16 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book introduces Insightful and provocative ways to access art beyond the canon of art history and traditional art criticism.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 39 reviews
42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Beautiful, meditative writing Oct. 16 2013
By Jshah - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I just received this book yesterday and I am savoring it page by page. I have been a huge fan of Alain de Botton for years now so it is no surprise that I pre-ordered this book. His take on the role of art in our individual lives and our spiritual lives is thoughtful and at times, provocative. He talks about art in the context of universal, human truths. He delves into each picture, extracting hidden emotions and details that reveal deeper layers and new ways to look at the art and relate it back to the human truths. I haven't finished it in a day - because this book is meant to be read a few pages at a time and meditated upon.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
If you enjoy art or want to enjoy art, this is a must read. Excellent! Nov. 8 2013
By Carolina Katharine - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Doesn't get better than this. Most books about art are flat, condescending, basically showing off the author's smarts. This book is very accessible to anyone who loves art and for anyone who has an interest ranging from professional to collector to novice. An intriguing take on humanity in art and how we communicate with art and how modern life dictates our understanding. Thoughtful, enlightening, refreshing, beautiful! Well edited, beautiful lay out, keenly developed and a book that is enjoyable to read over and over again. Brings a sense of discovery to the art viewer. Makes me want to head the nearest museum! Would make an excellent gift for anyone, whether for the holidays or as a thank you.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Ahhh............. Nov. 21 2013
By Kathleen - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is so different from others I have read. Here, art is not about history, not about technique. It is about the relationship between the viewer and the work. Art - either viewed or practiced - has depths of wisdom and perspective to impart. This is so delicious a book, that I limit my time with it, to make it last. Very interesting. Beautiful artwork.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
The book makes both life and art a little bit more interesting Nov. 17 2013
By Antti Nikkanen - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book kind of "accidentally". You could not consider me a fan of art. I still found the book very interesting. A slow read book, not only because the language is quite difficult but the ideas need a lot of time to be thought about. After finishing the book I found myself to be more calm with the discomfort the universe provides us.
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Fine, Until de Botton Shifts from Diagnostic to Prescriptive April 23 2014
By S. McGee - Published on
Format: Hardcover
As an artistic production in its own right, this book is lovely. The illustrations are remarkable. Even the structure is thought-provoking, and the early sections, each devoted to an analysis of the ways in which art can transcend its nominal subjects and acquire a personal relevance to the individual viewing it (or, in the case of architecture, inhabiting it) were intriguing).

But that's when the book's analysis started falling apart for me, since that's where de Botton moves away from an understanding and awareness that the relationship between a person and an individual piece of art is always going to be just that: individual. Especially when we're talking about "art as therapy". The way I respond to Monet's Giverny paintings may be the way that someone else reacts to, say, a Vermeer interior, or a Ming vase -- or even something utterly unexpected, like a vibrant Kandinsky. de Botton, in contrast, implies that there is a way we as a society can somehow guide a viewer to have a certain kind of epiphany by looking at a certain kind of work of art. I'm with de Botton in suggesting that that kind of visceral, thoughtful, emotional reaction occurs -- and should be encouraged -- but part ways with him in suggesting that we, as a society, should somehow be guiding people as to what they should be thinking in response to certain works of art by showcasing them in galleries devoted to kinds of emotions (loss, friendship, etc.), commissioning work to help us understand grief, etc.

Consider one example that de Botton offers up: that of the central panel of a 15th century triptych that once belonged to Isabella of Castile. It features Jesus, resurrected, visiting the Virgin Mary. Clearly, it makes less intuitive sense to our secular society, even that part of it with a Christian tradition, so some kind of explanatory context broader than the one de Botton cites as hanging beside it is called for. But the one he suggests strikes me as slightly ridiculous. de Botton's ideal explanation would include none of the information or context: it wouldn't describe what the scene represents, include any historical information (artist, ownership), and instead would simply tell us that it's about a mother/son relationship, about reunion against the odds, however fleeting. "The picture makes the claim that such moments of return (and of survival), though fleeting and rare, are crucially important in life. It wants men to understand -- and call their mothers." I'm not suggesting that the original label is sublime, but de Botton's alternative strikes me as fairly ridiculous. I think that is certainly one kind of epiphany that someone standing in front of a painting like that and engaging with it could have -- but not one that they should be instructed to have. And therein lies the problem with the book, in my view.

Another of the problems is de Botton's misunderstanding/misreading of the art market. I tend to agree with some of his assessments, for instance that the pendulum may have swung too far in the direction of deferring to artists in the determination of what becomes art. But the idea that "we abandon to chance the hope that our key needs will be covered by the unstructured and mysterious inspiration of artists" is simplistic in the extreme. There's this little thing called the market. If artists aren't creating things that buyers can respond to, those objects won't sell. There are plenty of starving artists out there, still. Gallerists, art consultants, artists can all push as hard as they want (and they do...) but they also get a lot of push back from the folks with the money -- the collectors.

The patron doesn't need to be able to "direct" the art in order to determine the outcome, as de Botton suggests. He or she simply can keep their wallet shut unless and until they identify a a piece that they respond to. (Alternatively, they can find an artist whose work they admire and, yes, commission a specific piece: it happens quite frequently, contrary to de Botton's assertion, although more on a one-to-one basis than on a societal basis...) Nor, I'd suggest, is it always desirable that we do direct art as a society, as de Botton so glibly suggests might be wise. Yes, the Catholic church created some great art, along with the Inquisition, but great art was born in rejection of it, too. And more great art was born in opposition to the agendas of those who tried to "shape" art in the name of the totalitarian agendas of the 20th century than ever was created by its state sponsors. Do we really want to go down that road? And if we did, what suggests that we would end up with anything more than what we already have as popular culture?

Repeatedly, de Botton misunderstands the art market: he argues that people buy art solely because of the "brand name". That may be so for some collectors, but almost invariably, if you talk to collectors (as I've done, as a journalist writing about the topic) they have a tremendous passion for certain artists and kinds of work (like hedge fund manager Dave Ganek and photography). Similarly, there are big brand names whose works the biggest galleries and auction houses struggle to shift: I've seen gloomy works by Lucian Freud remain unsold at high-profile auctions. Regardless of how big the brand, there are some things nobody wants in their homes. Again, there's that pesky personal connection that trumps everything.

The idea that art can serve an analytical purpose, while hardly new, is well articulated and developed with panache here. I'm all in favor of getting more people in favor of great works of art, to that end -- and getting them to think about what it is that they're seeing and finding a way to capture their emotional response to it. But I don't think that de Botton's tactics, as explained here, will achieve what he states is his goal.

It's easy to chortle at the silliness and posturing of the art market and occasional excesses at the contemporary end of that market (which is what a lot of de Botton's specific criticisms are aimed at when it comes to art creation; I don't see him really arguing that Rembrandt, Velazquez, Manet, etc. aren't great and that we should be dethroning them in favor of artists now viewed as third-tier names), but he's making serious proposals, too. In their own way, they are just as excessive as what he is criticizing, but they have an additional downside. If someone is introduced to a painting and TOLD that this they should be responding to it in a specific way, instead of simply being invited to respond to it, how is that an improvement on today's art world environment?

2.5 stars: The analysis is worth about 1.5 stars, but the plates and images definitely make the book worth looking at! Still, I'm glad my copy came from the library and will go back there.