De Botton, Alain and Armstrong, John: Art as Therapy, Phaidon, London 2013
This book was published a few years ago, but I only bought it last month and am enjoying it immensely. You've got to love a book on the purpose of art that has The Tiger Who Came to Tea as one of its examples.
De Botton and Armstrong highlight the ability of art to rebalance and to restore our frail, incomplete selves, and this book is a call for a radical rethink about how museums and galleries present art to the public, focusing on the psychological, therapeutic function of art. When de Botton applied this thinking to an actual museum, he was ridiculed for it, but I have a soft spot for his work and his empathy and don't agree with the majority of the criticism levelled against him. I admit to being a bit wary after all the hype, both positive and negative, but I was positively surprised.
The part of me that worries at times about being so obsessed with tidying was reassured to find Ben Nicholson's abstract piece used as an example of a work of art that embodies the 'pleasure of organising things' (p.54), showing a kinship with 'quiet domestic tasks' and similar acts of 'happy concentration', which should be taken more seriously. Likewise, a beautiful Chardin honours and celebrates the ordinary and 'recognises the worth of a modest moment' (p.56), thus encouraging us to be kinder towards ourselves and enabling us to make the best of what we have.
There are so many instances of recognition when reading this book, and the works discussed include several of my favourite pieces (Las Meninas!). It even takes in interior decoration, suggesting that rather than showing off, our concern with what we place in our homes involves 'a far more interesting and human process', using objects 'to communicate our identities to the world', as in, '[this] crockery [...] is like my deepest self' (p.43). The writers are aware of how exaggerated this might seem, but there is so much truth and humanity in these observations, and they are able to articulate and distill feelings we all have and voice our non-verbal, often visceral responses to visual art.
Brain Pickings has an excellent article about the book.