Art as Therapy: Rebalancing

Few of us are entirely well balanced. Our psychological histories, relationships and working routines mean that our emotions can incline grievously in one direction or another. We may, for example, have a tendency to be too complacent, or too insecure; too trusting, or too suspicious; too serious; or too light-hearted. Art can put us in touch with concentrated doses of our missing dispositions, and thereby restore a measure of equilibrium to our listing inner selves.

The notion that art has a role in rebalancing us emotionally promises to answer the vexed question of why people differ so much in their aesthetic tastes. Why are some people drawn to minimalism architecture and others to the Baroque? Why are sopme people excited by bare concrete walls and others by William Morris’ floral patterns? Our tastes will depend on what spectrum of our emotional make-up lies in shadow and is hence in need of stimulation and emphasis. Every work of art is imbued with a particular psychological and moral atmosphere; a painting may be either serene or restless, courageous or careful, modest or confident, masculine or feminine, bourgeois or aristocratic, and our preferences for one kind over another reflects our varied psychological gaps. We hunger for artworks that will compensate for our inner fragilities and help return us to a viable mean. We call a work beautiful when it supplies the virtues we are missing, and we dismiss as ugly one that forces on us moods or motifs that we feel either threatened or overwhelmed by. Art holds out the promise of inner wholeness.

A house to rebalance a nervous soul.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Farnsworth House, 1951.

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