Art as Therapy book cover

A critique, a call to action and a practical guide, in Art as Therapy renowned philosopher and best-selling author Alain de Botton tackles the too often-ignored question, ‘what is art for?’ Alain de Botton and co-author, art historian John Armstrong, propose a provocative new methodology for engaging with art, one that encourages us to look to art for guidance on living better lives. de Botton and Armstrong argue that we need to approach art armed with the question, ‘how can this cater to my inner needs?’ Putting forward the radical proposition that the true purpose of art is to teach us how to become better lovers, citizens and friends, featuring chapters on Love, Nature, Money and Politics.

The Life Lessons series from The School of Life takes a great thinker and highlights those ideas most relevant to ordinary everyday dilemmas. These books emphasise ways in which wise voices from the past have urgently important and inspiring things to tell us.

How to worry less about money

Can money make us happy?
Our relationship with money is one that lasts a lifetime, yet traditionally books on the subject tend to take one of two routes: a) how to get more, or b) how to deal with less. John Armstrong turns these approaches upside down, and looks not at money itself, but at how we relate to it and the meaning we attach to it.

What is civilization?
Why do we need it?
And what can civilization offer us in an age of irony?

The idea of civilization is a complex one, tangled up for years in ideas of colonialism and politics. John Armstrong explores the nature and aims of civilization in this elegant and witty book, examining how civilizing forces from the Greeks to the Renaissance have shaped and coloured our ideas of what a Good existence means. Only by bringing conversations about civilization back into our everyday lives, Armstrong reveals, can we rediscover our chance for wisdom and happiness.

Is it possible to be truly happy? In an imperfect world, how can we live well with what we have, and accept what we don’t have?

In Love, Life, Goethe, John Armstrong looks at the life of the renowned yet often misunderstood writer Goethe to show the surprising ways in which we can learn from him, whether in love, suffering, friendship or family. He shows how relevant Goethe is to the way we live today, and how he wanted (much the same as us) to live life well. From work to our relationships to money and success, John Armstrong explores the main themes of our existence through Goethe, and helps us learn how to live.

What does it really mean to love another person?
Is there such a thing as the ‘perfect’ partner?
How does infatuation differ from the real thing?
The need to love is central to our idea of happiness, yet it sometimes seems that the more we reflect on it the more elusive it becomes. In this lucid and graceful meditation on the deeper meanings of intimacy, John Armstrong explores the ideas that have shaped how we view affairs of the heart. Drawing on poetry, novels, philosophy, paintings and music, he shows how love is inextricably bound up with perception and the imagination: that loving a real, complicated person and being understood and valued by them in turn is not something we find, but rather something we create.


The notion of beauty is elusive: we love the things we find beautiful, and yet we are inarticulate when we try to communicate this love, or describe its essence. We are aware of people, paintings and houses that are universally recognized as beautiful, and yet we know also that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. In defining beauty and our response to it, we are often caught between the concrete and the sublime. We wish to categorize beauty, to clearly label its parts, and yet we wish also to celebrate its mysterious and at times mythical power. Armstrong’s response is a discursive and graceful journey through various and complementary interpretations, leading us from Hogarth’s belief that the essence of beauty lies in shapely curves, to Kant’s discourses on the meaning of pleasure. In this lucid and lyrical exploration John Armstrong aims to deepen our response both to beauty and to happiness. As he shows, the ability to truly recognise the beauty that surrounds us in the everyday could enable us to deepen the enjoyment of our lives.


“Armstrong is a fluent, engaging writer who seems to know…that a lot of people who fancy themselves intelligent begin to sweat when confronted with art . . . He gives us strategies for looking at art and architecture so that we can better understand what their creators intended while at the same time trusting our own tastes and instinctive sympathies to see the work as a whole.” — Sarah Lyall, Slate