Art as Therapy: Money
Problem: It’s not enough to have money; it also has to be used well.
They are comfortably off — there’s enough money for a lavish dinner, an elegantly furnished room, fashionable clothes. But Rowlandson has chosen a moment when they are being very far from refined. They seem brutish, greedy, vulgar. For all their cash, they behave no better than anyone else.
Such a scene brings money into disrepute. All this had to be paid for. Somewhere out of sight, land was drained, cultivated, people laboured in the fields. It all happened so that some people could make enough money and be freed from immediate care. But all they do with it is amuse themselves in ridiculous ways. They don’t deserve to be well off. They should aim higher. Our disgust is a sign of our ambition for them.
Problem: I’m trapped in money worries.
Our culture is so deeply impressed by money and values competence around money very highly, so it can feel very awkward to admit how frequently we feel frightened and bewildered in our financial lives. It’s not something you are supposed to feel. Yet often we do.
Piranesi’s imaginary prison might sometimes feel like a portrait of the inside of our heads when we worry about money. Every route turns out to be a dead end. You go off in one direction, only to find yourself back where you started. It’s impossible to break out.
There’s a key distinction between money troubles and money worries. Troubles are real: you absolutely have to pay for something. But often enough the anxieties around money are the work of imagination: we fear humiliation (rather than actual bankruptcy); we are worried about not getting some alluring luxury; it can feel imperative to earn more than a sibling, have a bigger house than a rival, stroll into business class rather than huddle with everyone else in economy. These worries can be very distressing. But in an important way they create an imaginary prison. They make us feel poorer than we really are. The solution might not be extra work to make more money. It might be greater self-knowledge.