This is a tool to put you in contact with particular works of art that are helpful to look at when facing certain problems. We believe the point of art in general is to offer therapeutic assistance; it should help us to better endure and enjoy our lives. For more on Art as Therapy, see here.
We're deeply suspicious of the word 'consumerism'; it's become a stick with which to beat the modern world. Yet consumerism doesn’t have to be stupid. At its best, what the word refers to is a love of the fruits of the earth, a delight in human ingenuity and an appreciation of the vast achievements of organised labour and trade. This picture takes us to an instructive time when abundance was new and not to be taken for granted. The picture knows it was hard to get that lobster. They were still amazed - as we should be - that the world can be controlled enough to have lobster in a lemon-butter dressing and pigeon pie; that you can get many varieties of cheese. They knew that marshes had to be drained and cattle fed through the winter; and they were impressed that lemons could reach a northern table: perhaps these very fruits were carried by donkey from the Neapolitan hills down to the harbour, onto leaky wooden ships that braved storms and struggled with unreliable winds. They knew how hard this all was, and how astonishing that human beings could do this. They felt the beauty of trade and understood how easily it could be disrupted by blockades or war. Every pleasure of the table was sending money around Europe - a force for peace and prosperity. The picture remembers all this effort, and celebrates it. We are so afraid of greed that we forget how honourable the love of material things can be. In 1644 homage was still paid to the nobility of commerce; a concept that boredom and guilt make less accessible to us. Perhaps we can learn from this picture. A good response to consumerism mightn’t be to sacrifice these pleasures and live without lobster and lemons, but to appreciate what really needs to go into providing them. Our desire to have luxury cheaply is the real problem - to care only for the low price. If the route to your table were dignified and ethical at every stage, a lemon would of course cost more. But maybe then we’d stop taking lemons for granted and our appreciation of their zest would be all the keener.