Oaks tree in Cumbria

Alain de Botton writes both fiction and nonfiction. His books are engaging, clever and just downright fun. Although I’ve never read any of his three novels (not sure why that is) I have every one of his nonfiction publications. His titles make picking up his books irresistible (IMHO), with names like How Proust Can Change Your Life, The Art of Travel, Status Anxiety, and The Architecture of Happiness.

In keeping with this very practical approach to life and its complexities, Alain and some colleagues recently started The School of Life.

From his website:

The School has a passionate belief in making learning relevant – and so runs courses in the important questions of everyday life. Whereas most colleges and universities chop up learning into abstract categories (‘agrarian history’ ‘the 18th century English novel’), The School of Life titles its courses according to things we all tend to care about: careers, relationships, politics, travels, families. An evening or weekend on one of its courses is likely to be spent reflecting on such matters as your moral responsibilities to an ex partner or how to resolve a career crisis.

Life done fun.

His latest book is The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. Highlighting 10 different professions ranging from care ship spotting to rocket science to biscuit manufacturing, De Botton observes the pleasures and the pains of people doing their jobs. One of his subjects is Stephen Taylor, a representational artist who lives in Colchester U.K. Seen through De Botton’s non-artist eye, Taylor’s process takes on a mystical quality. Although I do not spend long hours pinioned beneath a 250 year old tree (one of Taylor’s favorite subjects to paint) with my canvas and oils, De Botton’s description feels apropos to my work as well as many other artists I know. Whether representational or not, the intention seems to be shared.

As the night wears on, the human world gradually recedes, leaving Taylor alone with insects and the play of moonlight on wheat. He sees his art as born out of, and hoping to inspire, reverence for all that is unlike us and exceeds us. He never wanted to paint the work of people, their factories, streets, or electricity circuit boards. His attention was drawn to that which, because we did not build it, we must make a particular effort of empathy and imagination to understand, to a natural environment that is uniquely unpredictable, for it is literally unforeseen. His devoted look at a tree is an attempt to push the self aside and recognise all that is other and beyond us—starting with this ancient looking hulk in the gloom, with its erratic branches, thousands of stiff little leaves and remarkable lack of any direct connection to the human drama.

To see Stephen Taylor’s work, click here.

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