Where art fits in a hierarchy of human needs

There’s a comprehensive piece in today’s Australian on Maureen Wheeler’s philanthropic initiatives.  Her support of the Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas is wonderful.

However, towards the end of the article, Ms Wheeler offers an analysis of the place of the arts in the hierarchy of human needs with which I feel obliged to take issue.  She is quoted as saying: ‘So to me, the cultural nourishment of people is a luxury … culture should not be a priority of aid … art comes second (after the essentials of survival – medical support, food and drinking water)’.

Yes, health and sustenance are absolutely fundamental, but if achieving them requires any level of social organisation, collaborative art-making enters the picture – not as a luxury – but as the essential activity through which we learn to work together.

This not an argument for supporting books or opera (another of her loves) but for making sure that people (especially children) have the regular opportunity to sing and dance together – this is how we learn to co-operate and to enjoy co-operating.  Without this experience, we condemn ourselves to atomised individualism (thatcherism or reaganism perhaps).

Seems to me that hierarchies are always problematic, and human needs are a case in point.  We have a spectrum of needs, all of which are important.

2 thoughts on “Where art fits in a hierarchy of human needs

  1. maiia

    I like the term ‘spectrum’ of needs – as a visual artist combining Maslows hierarchy and other colour systems and applying them in a visual narrative, I find them to be dynamic and ideally everchanging.

    Philosophically, almost scientifically, after painting ten years of rainbows, the heart chakra is supposed to be our base. Survival mode is not a natural state, and dangerous if untempered by the other needs fulfillment -led to this rampant consumerism and nuclear weapons… etc born out by the fact that it is not sane.

    The arts are also healing tools for post- trauma.


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