Art has always proven to be much more than it seems. What does this startling image of a sheep standing over her dead lamb say to you about ‘anguish’? Blood from the lamb’s mouth trickles on to the snow. The pair is encircled by a mass of menacing black crows. The situation appears hopeless, despite the bravery of the ewe. Painted by August Friedrich Albrecht Schenck a Danish painter around 1878, this work is often cited as a metaphor for human relationships and society. In 1906 it was voted among the top five in the Melbourne collection of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV).
We all have concerns that trouble us all no matter what our own status in society; work, love, morality, tricky relationships – you get the picture. A new program being implemented at the NGV, which will run from 28th March to late September 2014 is Art as Therapy. It explores the idea art can have a powerfully therapeutic effect and that art can be enjoyed not only for where it came from or who made it, but what it can do for everyone. While the Art of Memory program at the NGV focuses on giving access to a specialized group in our community who need support, the Art as Therapy program is one everyone will be able to access if they believe it may help the way they view the world and live their life.
Just as Australian-born, London-based artist Ron Mueck, internationally recognized for his highly realistic figure sculptures, garnered a lot of interest in his art and what it means when his works were exhibited at the NGV in 2010, so should the Art as Therapy program motivate many. In the history of art, figure sculptures have often reflected an interest in idealised physical beauty. By contrast, Ron Mueck’s subjects were also ordinary people, often found in vulnerable states.
The idea behind Art as Therapy program was invented by two renowned philosophers and authors Alain de Botton and John Armstrong. They wanted to re-contextualise artworks so they challenged visitors to examine assumptions about themselves, society and how art is viewed in galleries.
Tony Ellwood, Director of the NGV said “We are thrilled that the philosophical ideas of Alain de Botton and John Armstrong will be applied to works in the NGV Collection as an extension of their innovative book Art as Therapy. This self-guided tour will be available for free to all visitors and we hope that the thought-provoking words of de Botton and Armstrong will encourage a deeper engagement and understanding of the selected artworks.”
The Art as Therapy tour will include a free, self-guided tour of the NGV Collection, consisting of specially-written labels for over sixty works. They will be accompanied by a brochure (available from the Information Desk at NGV International) and smartphone app (available for iPhone and Android). Along with the National Gallery of Victoria, artworks at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, and the Art Gallery of Ontario will also carry Art as Therapy labels.