‘What is art for?’ is a question too rarely asked. The question is posed, and answered, in the book Art as Therapy, co-authored by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong. The former is well known from his books, articles and television series; the latter less well known than he might be. John Armstrong is a philosopher and art historian: Glasgow born, English educated at Oxford and London, an Australian resident since 2001. Armstrong has published, with Penguin, eight other books in his own right with alluring titles including In Search of Civilization, The Secret Power of Beauty, and How to Worry Less About Money.
For five years John Armstrong was Senior Advisor to the Vice Chancellor at Melbourne University. In 2014 he became a Professorial Fellow at the University of Tasmania. Happily he has not stopped writing nor should he at the age of 50. He has a beguiling writing style, he poses intriguing questions and makes wonderful, sometimes surprising connections. He is after all from Scotland, home of the Enlightenment, birthplace of great philosophers. In Search of Civilization examines that word from many angles and notes that, surprisingly, it is of fairly recent origin coming into use only during the 18th century.
One of the first writers to use it was Adam Smith, another Scot, and still in current readership. It is well worth going in search of civilization with John Armstrong; he wants to ‘remake a tarnished idea’.
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