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Art as Therapy by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong

February 2014, no. 358

Art, in all its diverse manifestations, from storytelling to picture-making, from singing and dancing to poetry, is as distinctive and universal an activity of the human mind as language. It is, in essence, a way of thinking about the world, of shaping experience as it is felt to be and reshaping it as it could be, that long predates the development of rational reflection. Stories have been told for thousands of years, perhaps tens of thousands; philosophical and scientific thought begins, for practical purposes, around 2500 years ago.

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One subspecies of cartoon in the New Yorker addresses the balance of power between diners and waiters. The caption above, from a cartoon by P.C. Vey, accompanies a drawing of a bemused couple holding menus, and looking at a waiter who is sitting at their table with a glass of wine. Absurd as this hypothetical situation is, it pricks at one of the central difficulties that all fine-dining restaurants must address: the distance kept by, and the demeanour of, the person without whom diners would be inhospitably stranded in a room that offers the promise of infinite riches.

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