Book review | Art as Therapy

art as therapy 2

“The saying ‘art for art’s sake’ specifically rejects the idea that art might be for the sake of anything in particular, and therefore leaves the high status of art mysterious – and vulnerable. Despite the esteem art enjoys, its importance is too often assumed rather than explained. Its value is taken to be a manner of common sense. This is highly regrettable, as much for the viewers of art as for its guardians” (extract from Art as Therapy)

What book are we talking about?

Alain de Botton and John Armstrong’s new book: Art as Therapy. The book has been published alongside a special exhibition at the Rjiksmuseum, but also works as a stand-alone read. The title is a pretty good indication of what the book is about. The concept behind the book is that looking and experiencing art can help us in understanding and solving our daily dilemmas.

What’s it like?

Art as therapy reads as a mix of an opinion piece in a newspaper, an interesting conversation and an academic research. The inclusion of a ‘methodology’ chapter reminds of an academic research, and the logical structure of the writing shows that the book is indeed well thought out. However, the writing style is casual and the many examples and visual aids make it an entertaining read. Actually, the inclusion of the methodology chapter makes the book more accessible than it would otherwise be, because it does a good job at introducing a new way of looking at art.

Is it worth the read?

Apart from introducing their own theories, de Botton and Armstrong provide a background of how art can be analysed without being snobs. I enjoy the subtle humour found in a lot of de Botton’s work and the subject matter of this book is also a winner for me. For art lovers of museum goers I say this book is worth the read.

*for those techies with a smartphone*

Alain de Botton has also released a free Art as Therapy app where you can look up the artisic cures for whatever is ailing you. Not terribly elaborate, but cute and more than a gimmick.

Cover up! | 4 artists who saw the magazine cover as an A4-sized artwork

Time Inc. has announced that it will feature advertisements on the covers of two of their big magazines: Time magazine and Sports Illustrated. This announcement has got me thinking about the evolution and function of magazine covers in general. It can be said that the goal of a magazine cover is to draw attention to the magazine and, possibly, give consumers an impression of the articles it features. However, when going to the local grocery store it can be concluded that many modern magazines feature a very similar formula: a smiling cover celebrity on a white background surrounded by the features of the articles inside. Neither original, nor graphically striking. An exception can be a number of independent magazines or the occasional cover of a newspaper’s magazine supplement.

As a small act of confrontation, I present four artists who saw the magazine cover not as a monthly chore, but as an A4 sized artwork.

The graphic designer: Alexey Brodovitch

brodovitch bazaar

Brodovitch (1898-1971) is best know for his artistic direction of Harper’s Bazaar. His magazine work shows that he was both photographer and graphic designer – photographs are subjected to graphic layouts and graphic elements are synced with the themes portrayed in the photgraphs.

The experimenter: Erwin Blumenfeld

blumenfeld doe eye vogue 1950

Blumenfeld (1897-1969) was known for his dramatic and serious photography. Unwilling to compromise, Blumefeld’s magazine covers show experimentation and a desire for artistic relevance.

The photographer: Cecil Beaton

british vogue june 1949 cecil beaton

Beaton (1904-1980) had a flair for the theatrical. His many covers for Vogue and work as the photographer of the British royal family show that photography is not a subjective medium, but a way to build celebrity.

The opinionated: Saul Steinberg

steinberg new yorker cover

Steinber (1914-1999) takes you into his world, while subtly making a joke or satirical statement. His work seems effortless, fresh and simple. He called himself “a writer who draws”.

Online Art Inspiration

Matisse - the red room

There is nothing like standing in front of a piece of art you love. A few years back I had the chance to see Matisse’s The Red Room at the Hermitage in Amsterdam. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to see beautiful art in real life as often as I would like. So here are a few tips of art that can inspire you while sitting behind your laptop. Leave a comment if I missed out your favorite source of inspiration!

Museum websites

Many museums have amazing websites. Personally I love the Rijksmuseum Rijksstudio website. Rijksstudio is an online image gallery of a lot of the Rijksmuseum’s artwork – available to download in high quality – for FREE!!

The Art Assignment

Many museums also have youtube channels with interviews or background information about current exhibits. Aside from browsing museum YouTube channels I really enjoy watching the Art Assignment. This channel features a new video each week. In the videos modern artists are interviewed, background information is given and, as you might have guessed from the title, you are challenged to carry out your own art assignment.

I recently discovered – best described as a social media platform for art. The website provides high resolution images of many paintings, background articles and information about buying and selling art. It’s a great website to discover new artists and learn more about the value of art.

5 ideas | Georges Seurat


The Georges Seurat exhibition at the Kröller-Müller Museum (may 23 – sept 7) attempts to answer the following question: what makes Seurat’s work so important?

When visiting the exhibition last weekend I found 5 ideas that answer this question for me.


  1. Shades of grey

The Kröller-Müller exhibition includes many of Seurat’s sketches. As if to foreshadow the history of cinema, Seurat also works in black and white before moving to a world in colour. The sketches show his excellent eye for lighting but also a meticulousness  in his material choice. The rough texture of the paper used seems to bring extra depth to the shading and composition of the sketches.

  1. Shape of things to come

The familiarity of the sketches showed that Seurat’s signature is more than his pointillist technique. Seurat’s work is also very recognizable in the subjects, shapes of the landscapes and the shape of the figures. Several sketches suggest  the figures used in later paintings, and are thus independently recognizable as works by Seurat. And now, decades later, the poster for the French film Strangers by the Lake does not echo Seurat’s techniques or colour use, but none the less reminds of La Grande Jatte.

  1. Art meets science

It seems as if art is often used as a way to amplify scientific concepts – think Rembrandt’s anatomy lesson. What makes Seurat interesting is that he uses science to amplify art. Seurat uses colour theory to make his paintings more vibrant: by placing dots of contrasting colours next to each other both colours are visually amplified.

  1. The 19th century life

Specialising in consumer behaviour, I have followed multiple courses in which the history of the consumer society was chronicled. I really enjoy how Seurat’s subject matter narrates some of the major lifestyle changes taking place in the second half of the 19th century. His painting of circuses, parks and other entertainment reflect the major increase in leisure time for many people. Many other paintings are set on the outer edges of cities – like harbours. The trends of city growth and the shift of industry from the centre to the edge of cities are clearly visible.

  1. Layers of Labour

Finally, the Kröller-Müller exhibition shows how layered and time-consuming each of Seurat’s paintings are. Seurat started with sketches, then he filled the painting with broad strokes (of 1-2 cm) before covering the entire canvas in meticulous dots. This labour-intensive way of working sets him apart from many other impressionists, who used rough strokes to capture an emotion.

before photoshop | a picture worth a thousand moments?

Boulevard du Temple in Parijs door Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre.

A quiet street in Paris? Only a lady and the shoe-shiner seem to be on the street. Actually, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre made this picture during a busy afternoon but since his shutterspeed was so long, you only the figures that were standing still. Paris avant le photoshop?

Do you like reading about photography? Maybe you’ll also like this post or this one !

image from here


Contrast | photographs by William Klein

William Klein (1928 – )  is gracing the walls of Foam (photography museum Amsterdam) from December 20th untill March 12th. The exhibition focuses on his work in the 1950s and how he challenged the concept that only perfect photographs (perfect composition, perfect subject, perfectly in focus) could be beautiful.

What I really enjoyed was how Klein played with contrast. Here, three different types of contrast

Contrast in colour

simone nina piazza di spagna rome 1960 vogue c william klein

Klein played with the contrast between black and white in his photography to create a graphic feel and to add interest. In the picture above the black and white crossing, repeated in the dresses, creates structure. However, the model glancing back at the other (as if to say ‘hey, is she wearing the same thing’) adds humour and imperfection.

Contrast in context 


The contrast is also visible in the subject matter and set up of the photographs. Many photographs feature a main subject (who is often off-centred or perhaps even blurred) whose emotion or features contrast with things that are happening in the background. I love the photograph featured above – the contrast of the young woman, full of life in a small black bikini vs. the old man snoozing in the background in his white suit.

Contrast in creation


Finally, spanning Klein’s work is the contrast in his creation. Some photographs seem to be random snapshots. On the other hand, other photographs have clearly been altered and adjusted in the darkroom. Using lighting techniques in the dark room Klein has transformed the photograph from a standard fashion photo to a picture with movement.

Photographs by William Klein

picture (im)perfect | Joel Sternfeld and c/o Berlin

Long ago it must be / I have a photograph / Preserve your memories / They’re all that’s left of you” – Simon and Garfunkel

(click here to listen to it while reading this post)

When I was in Berlin around the New Year I visited the unofficial photography museum c/o Berlin. There, they had a great overview exhibition of the works of Joel Sternfeld. Here, three elements present in his body of work that got me thinking.

Double entendre

fire man & farmer's market (sternfeld)

While a fire is blazing in the background, we see a fireman picking out a pumpkin at the farmer’s market – Sternfeld makes firemen seem reckless. One of the things I particularly enjoyed about the retrospective of Sternfeld’s work is the mix of emotions that are behind them and the mix of emotions they evoke. Serious, beautiful, ironic, critical, funny – all at once. The hope and demise of the American dream are shown in one image that seems to fit in the spirit of the 70s but is also still relevant.

“Joel Sternfield peels away the layers soberly and precisely, bringing to light the limitations of human perception, the lightness of forgetting, and the everyday nature of violence.” (Mirko Nowak & Karin Hanster, c/o Berlin)

True colors

A Woman Out Shopping with Her Pet Rabbit (sternfeld)

Sternfeld was one of the first photographers to use color photographs in artistic photography and take it out of an ‘advertisement-only’ context. The picture above is particularly striking because of the bright pink blazer the girl is wearing (although that she goes shopping with her pet rabbit is also pretty cool).

1000 words

Bryer's Grocery Store (sternfeld)

This photo may not seem particularly important or stunning. That is, until you know that a 14-year old black boy was murdered because he called a white woman ‘baby’. Sternfeld presents a lot of narrative in his photographs that is overlooked unless you know what you are looking at. This gets me thinking about two things:

1) what are the limitations of human perception?

2) where is the line between understanding art at first glance, and having to delve into it to give it meaning?

Image credits: the three photographs are all taken by (none other than) Joel Sternfeld himself.