Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Maslow and Aesthetic Growth

Maslow's hierarchy of needs, as applied to culture at large, determine the health of a society's artistic and aesthetic development. Though controversial, this view has never been more important than today; a view I'd care to discuss further.

Maslow defined a pyramid-shaped hierarchy, with baser needs like physiological and safety at the bottom, and esteem and self-actualization at the top. Within this hierarchy, the upper needs rest on the foundation of the lower; are dependent on them as precondition.

Human kind exhibits a remarkable ability to remain creative, despite the desperate conditions many individuals find themselves immersed within. Despite the resiliency of the species, however, the fact remains that conditions of poverty and economic enslavement are not conducive to the fertile creative environment required for aesthetic growth, both individually and as a culture at large.
The mechanism of coupling between socioeconomic conditions and aesthetic development can be as simple and obvious as the excessive expenditure of personal energy required by the working class, leaving little left over to be dedicated to the higher concerns of aesthetic appreciation and growth.

Despite the best intentions of those who promote governmental policy toward social development of the arts, I reject the socialist model whereby a proletarian class of workers are obligated to support an oligarchic, aesthetic elite -- so-called state sponsored art. True cultural growth is a decidedly democratic, or populist, activity, in that it can only serve to transform the culture when it originates from within the working class itself.Aesthetic capitalism is the opposite extreme from the socialist model, and also can easily lead to extremism if left unchecked. When systems of media, and museums and galleries, are left to compete for an aesthetically appreciative audience based solely on capitalist principles, then art is reduced to mere commodity, as is evidenced by the excesses of our contemporary popular culture.

In order for a healthy culture to be promoted, it is required that there be some middle ground between the extremes of both socialism and capitalism, that retain the beneficial properties of both while eliminating the extremist negativism. This has been, of course, the crux of the search for political truth for centuries; however, I would like to limit this discussion to aesthetic concerns, rather than political. Parenthetically, any solution within the aesthetic realm would obviously have important implications for our political life, as well.A healthy, vibrant middle class is the single most important metric for the cultural development of society. For without a middle class, there remains the structure of a feudal state, master ruling over serfs. Aside from statistics of personal income, how else are we to gauge a middle class's aesthetic growth? One measure is the degree to which the distractions of popular culture -- the marketing arm of corporate globalism -- are minimized and displaced by the growth of higher aesthetic interests. A lifestyle of sufficient affluence to eliminate the baser needs of food, shelter and safety should be used instead to serve activities of a higher nature than the distractions of television, the internet and popular culture. We should, in fact, expect to see the decline of popular culture and simultaneously the growth of real culture, which should also occur more at the level of the local community, if aesthetic growth were to proceed unabated.

I don't presume to offer direct solutions, merely to lay forth guiding principles by which our culture can progress. This middle-class, aesthetic guiding principle should be seen as a direct antithetic to the two extremes of leftist, revolutionary art on the one hand, and corporate marketed art-as-commodity at the other extreme. Finding ways to further develop this balanced middle view will, in large measure, also aid in the development of social conditions for furtherance of the culture at large. Ultimately, a society is no healthier than the degree to which it fosters a healthy, vibrant middle-class-driven aesthetic.


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9:01 PM  
Blogger deek said...

Very interesting observation/theory.

Pop culture can certainly be viewed as suppressing the middle class' aesthetic. Really, just about any class, when you think about it.

Popularity seems to usurp many, if not all of Maslow's hierarchy, in the majority of Americans. I would say "people" in general, but I can't really say I have much of a worldly view, so won't assume to know more than I really do.

7:11 AM  
Blogger D. Loon said...

"Art as expressions, not as market campaigns, will still capture our imaginations" - Neil Peart

In addition to socialist or capitalist ways of paying artists, consider also the traditional (conservative?) way of artists being supported by wealthy patrons. Would you consider this a third extreme?

The "socialist" way that you describe wouldn't be that bad if not for "serious" artists' wariness towards the middle-class, a pride in creating works that we "philistines" don't get.

Your call for a middle-class aesthetic I find refreshing in light of that. The more people are able to have the time to develop talents and get art supplies, the more capable artists there can be in a society. This will make art less rare and less valuable, which I think is basically a good thing, even though I know some people want to make a living selling their paintings.

Extraordinary talent and skill will always stand out, and deserves credit, but maybe part of the problem is that too many people feel _entitled_ to make a living selling their paintings, or abstract sculptures or installations or whatever . . .

My sympathies have shifted decisively in favor of someone who has perfected a technique through rigor over someone telling me I "just don't understand".

9:12 AM  
Blogger deek said...

More art is a good thing. Especially if it is devalued (price-wise, I mean), more people would partake in it and not have it stuck in museums and the hands of the rich.

In fact, at a restaurant a month ago, there were and artist's paintings hanging about the room. They were all the same concept, just different colors were used. The thing that caught me was that it was not on canvas, but corrugated cardboard and each had a price tag of $250.

I told my wife those paintings had about $40 worth of materials in them plus the artist's time. I understand that with low demand, price goes up...point is, I was completely turned off on the work due to the price.

If art was more abundant, more people would own some and the total level of appreciation would go up.

9:45 AM  

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