Theory versus Practice
Alain de Botton, I feel as though I have been unknowingly illustrating your fine book all of my working life!
Naturally as a realist plein air painter, the chapter about the realist plein air painter spoke to me most directly. Very few art critics and even fewer philosophers have ever valued the empirical point of view, i.e. the experience of what actually happens as opposed to their pristine theory of what should happen. I could not name a single other living art critic or philosopher who has bothered to observe from close quarters what is actually involved in the creation of a work of art. The labour involved, the struggle with materials and the entire process is always taken for granted or even treated with disdain. The work of art is expected to appear as if by magic on the gallery wall, and increasingly the 'idea' or theory is given the respect formerly due to the artist's skill and the actual 'work' is carried out by nameless assistants.
De Botton is the only writer in recent memory to bother to accompany an artist on the long journey from the idea to the completed canvas on the gallery wall. Some art critics have visited the homes or galleries of wealthy and famous art collectors, but de Botton is certainly the only one to visit the home of an ordinary person who happened to recently purchase a painting to try to understand their motives and observe their interaction with their new purchase. De Botton is also the only writer with the patience to watch an artist at work and the only one to attempt to understand what that work actually involves.This wonderful chapter is full of respect, tenderness and wryly understated humour, and I was deeply moved by it.
For more of my responses to this book see my page on this blog : 'From the Hungry Mile to Barangaroo' where I quote from his chapter on cargo ship spotters.