What is art for? Alain de Botton’s animated guide | Art and design

What is art for? Alain de Botton’s animated guide | Art and design

You might think there was a simple answer
to this. After all, we know how to say what most things are for: like this or that. People flock to museums like never before
so they must have their motives but when it comes to art people get strangely afraid to
ask too directly what it might all be for because, well, everyone except you might know
the answer already. It’s perhaps obvious, it’s perhaps too complicated.
The result is an awkward silence and a lot of confusion. But maybe it shouldn’t be that hard to say
what art is for. Maybe we can have a go at ascribing certain rather clear purposes to
art. Here’s five things that art might be able
to do for us. It’s an obvious but striking fact that the
most popular works of art in the world show pretty things: happy people, flowers in spring,
blue skies. This is the top selling post card in the world
from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. This enthusiasm for prettiness worries
serious types a lot. They wonder: ‘have people forgotten what life
is really like?’ But that seems a misplaced worry. We need
pretty things close to us not because we’re in danger of forgetting the bad stuff but
because terrible problems weigh so heavily on us that we’re in danger of slipping into
despair and depression. That’s why prettiness matters: it’s an emblem
of hope, which is an achievement. Prettiness: those flowers and blue skies and kids in meadows
is hope bottled and preserved, waiting for us when we need it. The world often requires us to put on a cheerful
facade but beneath the surface there’s a lot of sadness and regret that we can’t express
from fear of seeming weird or a loser. One thing art can do is reassure us of the
normality of pain. It can be sad with and for us. Some of the world’s greatest works of art
have been loved for their capacity to make the pain that’s inside all of us more publicly
visible and available. Like putting on a sad piece of music, sombre
works of art don’t have to depress us, rather they can give us the welcome feeling that
pain is part of the human condition. Art fights the false optimism of commercial
society. It’s there to remind us with dignity that every good life has extraordinary amounts
of confusion, suffering, loneliness and distress within it. And that therefore, we should never
aggravate sadness by feeling we must be freakish simply for experiencing it quite a lot. All of us are a little unbalanced in some
way. We’re too intellectual or too emotional, too masculine or too feminine, too calm or
too excitable. The art we love is frequently something we’re
drawn to because it compensates us for what we lack. It counterbalances us. When we’re moved by a work of art, it may
be because it contains concentrated doses of qualities we need more of in our lives.
Perhaps it’s full of the serenity we admire but don’t have enough of, perhaps it’s got
the tenderness we long for but that our jobs and relationships are currently lacking. Or
perhaps it’s suffused with the pain and drama we’ve had to stifle but want to get in touch
with. Sometimes a whole society falls in love with
a certain style in art because it’s trying to rebalance itself: like France in the late
18th century that wanted David as a corrective to its decadence or Britain in the 19th century
that looked to the pre-Raphaelites to counter the effects of brutal industrialisation. The art a country or a person calls ‘beautiful’
gives you vital clues as to what’s missing in them. It’s in the power of art to help us feel more
rounded, more balanced and more sane. The media is constantly giving us hints about
what’s glamorous and important. Art also tells us about what’s glamorous and important but,
fortunately, given that you weren’t invited again to the Oscars this year, it usually
picks on some very different things. Albrecht Durer makes grass look glamorous,
John Constable draws our attention to the skies, van Gogh reminds us that oranges are
worth paying attention to, Marcel Duchamp challenges us again to look at the seemingly
mundane. These artists aren’t falsely glamorising things
that are better ignored, they’re justly teasing out a value that’s been neglected by a world
with a deeply distorted and unfair sense of what truly matters. Art returns glamour to it’s rightful place,
highlighting what’s genuinely worth appreciating. Nothing seems further from good art than propaganda,
the sort encouraging you to fight or what government to support. But one way to think about art is that it
is a sort of propaganda in the sense of a tool that motivates and energises you for
a cause, only it’s propaganda on behalf of some of the most important and nicest emotions
and attitudes in the world, which it uses its skills to make newly appealing and accessible. It might be propaganda about the simple life
or about the need to broaden one’s horizons, or about a more playful, tender approach to
life. It’s a force that stands up for the best sides of human nature and gives them
a platform and an authority in a noisy, distracted world. For too long art has attracted a little too
much reverence and mystique for its own good. In its presence we’re like someone meeting
a very famous person, we get stiff and lose our spontaneity. We should relax around it
as we already do with music and learn to use it for what it’s really meant for: as a constant source of support and encouragement
for our better selves. It’s the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard,
the likes of Russell Brand come along and saying something so damn ignorant is absolutely
spoon-feeding it to them.


  • Will R says:

    What's the painting at 2.21 please?

  • SleepyDegu says:

    Isn't the main purpose of art simply to make you think? I think the main problem of a lot of people visiting art galleries is that they treat viewing a piece of art like queuing up to meet a famous person. They tick it off a checklist, then are able to tell others that they've seen it and move on to the next canvas with a big name attached to it. I don't think everyone visiting galleries should be experts – definitely the contrary, it's amazing that we have so many museums in this country that are free to everyone, and the more people that visit the better. But we should be encouraging people to really look at art, and decipher their own meanings from it. Art is communication, and looking at a piece of art is like having a conversation.

  • Scitzowicz says:

    hi Alain 

  • V Yo says:

    Why are all of the references are western male artists?

  • marisafari says:

    watch this instead of stefan molyneaux's blabberings

  • dundee520 says:

    interesting vid

  • Hugo Sá says:

    why is this implying that only paitings are Art? (And please correct me if I am worng, and it doesnt).

  • Brendan Watson says:

    I think you don't see art , you don't hear art . I think you feel art.

  • Amy Hanks says:

    This will be a great intro for my art class!  Thank you!

  • Spiritual Cosmetics says:

    This video is great! Thanks.

  • Zakaria Ali says:

    art is something that last for a mere moment, but within those few moments takes away your breath mesmerises you takes away your breath in other words: ART IS AN EXPLOSION.

  • Orman Soares says:

    Thak you very much.

  • Benjamin Lees says:


  • Soha Noha says:

    People remember oranges!

    So cool 🙂

  • John MacLeod says:

    Loved the video. Art should be more accessible to the general public, even to politicians. Maybe if it was more funding would be available. Schools could do more if teachers had better training or if they were allowed to swop around a bit to teach in areas of more experience in the junior grades.

  • Blue Collar Beer Snob says:

    very good!

  • Chris Havard says:

    What's the painting at 2:06?

  • Yassir El says:

    SOS Art this is not the real role of art !

  • Elena Smyrniotis says:

    I would love if there were a version of this with no nudes so I could show it to my students.

  • Daniel Maitland says:

    Does anyone know the name of the painting at 2:20? It's much appreciated. Thanks

  • Mari Rada says:

    Beautiful!! One of the best videos I have ever seen!!

  • César Rabbit says:

    I'm glad I watched.

  • Andrea Asmarats says:

    Can someone tell me who are the artist that appear in 4:47?

  • Arnav Seksaria says:

    Humans know many answers like E=MC2 and the speed of light, but many do not know why do we do art? Many people do not know the answer because people are afraid that it is obvious and think that people will find them weird. Art is like a diary to express sadness and even the greatest life's have sadness and to achieve greatness you need to accept that sadness. Life can't go without sadness otherwise people will think too highly of themselves. Art also keeps us hopeful as you probably know most artworks are pretty things like flowers or beautiful landscapes, we need pretty things for many reason like to keep us hopeful in a world full of terrorism,racism and narcissism and to keep us from going in depression. Art is like hope in a jar waiting to be opened to share happiness in the world. Art also makes us feel less lonely the world often makes us put on a happy face even though there may be terrible guilt or sadness otherwise people will think you are weird, art can also remind us of the normality of pain. Most of the greatest works of Art are famous to make the pain inside all of us publicly visible, art also reassures us that pain is a part of the human condition, art fights the force optimism of commercial society it reminds us that every good life has a huge amount of confusion and sadness but the happiness makes up for it but we should never aggravate sadness by feeling that we are freakish. Art also rebalances us , most of us are unbalanced and have a great deal of sadness inside us and very little happiness. Sometimes a whole society falls in love with one type of art, when someone calls some type of art beautiful it gives people a massive clue of what is missing in them. Art helps us to appreciate things, the media is constantly giving us of what’s glamorous and important. Art returns glamour to its rightful place and highlights what's genouilly worth appreciating. Art is propaganda for what really matters
    – Written by an 11 year old

  • Mark Koster says:

    mam im terrified

  • Memep 01 says:

    this sucks

  • Matej Huang says:

    I would encourage anyone interested in art to read Oscar Wilde's preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray. It is a wonderfully articulated perspective on art from a great artist.

  • Pierre P says:

    Best definition

  • BeactingGames says:

    Hey what about abstract art?

  • MoHo Ray says:

    can anyone please tell me what is the name of the music playing at 2:00 ? been looking for a while

  • Jaime jimenez cuanalo says:

    A better approach for this issue is to start by acknowledging that the word art was created by somebody to name a phenomenon they experienced in their lives; so we go and look for that original convention so we know what the phenomenon is. Once we do this, we find out that Romans coined the word ars (art) to account for the source of those things that were not created by the gods, but rather by humans, so that they could divide the universe in the realms of 'the natural' –things created by the gods through their agency called 'natura'– and the realm of 'the artificial' –things created by humans through their agency called 'ars'. And right there, automatically, we know what art is for: creating the artificial. After that is just a matter of understanding the fundamental differences between creating and manufacturing and other such words, and understanding the concept of originality –and distinguishing it from novelty and other such words–. For example, the film Metropolis, by Frits Lang, 1927, created the robots, particularly the android robots, in the sense that it was the origin of that 'form'. Without artists having imagined this form, there would be no engineers trying to make such contraptions.

  • xMyPointlessChannelx says:

    I'm not really fond of this over view of art. Too narrow and naive.

  • damoth says:

    noooo this is so not right or interesting or anything

  • ratinthecat2 says:

    Could someone tell me who the artist is of the 2 paintings at 5:07 – 5:19?

  • Huixtocihuatl says:

    Art is a representation of our consciousness and humanity.

  • Michel Jurgens says:

    This is the voice of The School of Life? 😀

  • dylan says:

    What's the painting at 2:22

  • Lunes de comida says:

    may , great!!!

  • Joseph Ososkie says:

    My personal litmus test for serious and meaningful definition of art and aesthetics is if they don't us the term " art for art's sake". Sweeping any confusion under a tautology rug. There must be a half dozen attempts like this one on YouTube and this one wasn't too bad. I agree that whatever grabs your attention is the place to start.

  • keity saez says:

    ¿Pero que Guatefac?

  • joebeezy115 says:


  • ll Keven ll says:

    Bruh my art teacher made watch this😂😂

  • andre turnes says:


  • Riccivicas says:


  • bembel girl says:

    Brillant 👍👍

  • hi please says:

    In case someone wanted to know the authors, I did some searching.. Hope I got them right 🙂
    5:00 Johannes Vermeer The Little Street
    5:05 Albert Bierstadt (I’m not sure, since this painting in the video is missing some details https://www.artclon.com/images/201011/goods_img/10863_G_1289304766682.jpg )
    5:08 Grayson Perry The Vanity Of Small Differences
    5:13 Grayson Perry Expulsion from number 8 eden close

  • T.D.M. More Than A Movement says:

    Listen, ART creates peace where there is violence and love where there is hate. THIS IS ARTS PURPOSE. Elvis was able to destroy much of racism in his segregated fans via art. Christmas music was able to bring soldiers to stop killing each other. WHAT'S TO BE MISUNDERSTOOD? If saving lives and creating a safer world is not a purpose then EVERYTHING is meaningless

  • Moon Tide says:

    Leave it up to this channel to leave a vague, unhelpful, hollow answer.

  • إيمان says:

    This is way too vague , and scrambled

  • Ahmed chouati says:

    good video

  • emma martel says:

    Could someone give me the names of the artworks shown in this video? It would really be really appreciated!!!

  • DANI G says:

    so how do we tie this to the culinary arts?

  • Sining Tadhana says:

    For me art is also the representation of the mystery, order, harmony, beauty, and even chaos of nature………representing or presenting the nature around us and the nature of us. It's just like putting these unexplainable, philosophical, spiritual, emotional, mental, psychological, and social experiences and ideas we have into something visible or audible or expressing it through movements. It's our nature to search for total order, total harmony, and our admiration for something beautiful and attractive or to something worth of thinking and ponder that we also do art. It's just our way of recording these ideas, experiences, and admiration or attraction towards humanly affairs, nature, and culture, the development of individual and societies, and of our selves that we acknowledge as special only among us. Art makes us think, it makes us feel that touches our emotions or reminds us of something, it tackles issues around us or mimics the nature in and out of us that others might understand the mystery and feeling of our ideas and experiences or of the very human condition itself.

  • Daniel Farrar says:

    We use art to picture our thoughts.

  • Veniland She says:

    That was very helpful and interesting, thank you very much

  • Esprit Farmer says:

    Who is the artist of the paintings at 5:08 and 5:13? Thank you

  • Saidy Arce says:

    so funny lol

  • Renzo says:

    I don't think Marcel Duchamp exhibited his "ready made" urinal to help us appreciate indoor plumbing!
    He had a wholly different motive.
    And it opened a can of evils that have practically destroyed art as we know it !
    ( conceptual 'art' )

  • Renzo says:

    After many years, I finally came to understand that I am most happy when I am creating.
    The chorus in Verdi’s Aida sings an invocation to the great god, Ftah.
    “You, who from nothing created the universe….”
    How is something created from nothing?
    By use of the imagination.
    We have an image in our mind and we create it as art.
    And by creating a tangible product that starts with a thought, we are assuming, on a small scale, the role of God.
    Perhaps the anxiety of being powerless over life and death is relieved a bit when we, like god, create.

  • John FitzGerald says:

    This is speculation. I can think of no empirical evidence for any of these suggestions. Is there any evidence, for example, that people fell more hopeful after viewing pretty pictures? And if there is, how does that imply that that is art's purpose. For example, it would seem to me that by that standard the World Cup is art.

  • Neo 0101 says:

    Blah blah blah…just shut up and look.

  • Juan Diaz says:

    No it's not to inspire
    not to stop lonelyness
    not to rebalance us
    not to any functional purpose you are thinking about.
    You dont hear music to be productive, even if you found out you do, that's not the main reason.
    To put it simple not everything in life is about work and usefullness or productivity. Life is also about enjoyment. To actually have fun, you aren't some ant condemned to just work and be productive. You also enjoy life. That's you watching tv, hearing a joke and contemplating beauty. Art is for enjoyment. Anything else comes after. It's simple and clean, dont over complicate it. Way back then egyptians saw art (the word didnt exist) as a productive way to convey information to the gods. Contemporary art is obsesed with transmiting information, meaning. That's just an aspect of art, not art itself. Art is hardly defined because we made the word from something we didnt have so clear. Doesnt have a functional purpose, of course unless you want to give it one, yet you aren't required to.

  • Chrischti says:

    gibs den scheiss eig lei um Schüler z triggern vadommte scheisse

  • artpoint.paradox aMARYca says:

    Life is art and art is life.

  • local playyaa says:

    Who cares what art is about, just paint god damn.

  • Almira Lumio says:

    Looks good and promising

  • Alexis Fariola says:

    Looks good and promising


  • Kyra Buenviaje says:

    Looks good and promising.

  • Mackaina Wright says:

    Why is art important? read the ULTIMATE list of reasons here – it will blow your mind artpage101.com/why-get-a-painting

  • Marshella Quintanilla says:

    Why repost a video from another channel?

  • Jordan freeman says:

    art isnt important though

  • Thaíke Augusto Narciso Ribeiro says:


  • Kendrick Keener says:

    This video sucks!

  • Alexa Mariscal says:

    I saw this video in my class yesterday.

  • jc austin says:

    Art is a representation of our consciousness and Humanity.

  • jc austin says:

    isn't the main purpose of art simply to make you think.

  • Jarod David says:

    5:06 what is this painting called

  • Nicole M says:

    Excellent. Learned a lot.

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