Monday, February 3

the "HONORS" in my art foundations class

I'm a social work major and psychology minor. I love people. That's who I am. So bear with me on this little rambling:

There's this guy named Abraham Mazlow and he lived a good long while ago.
He came up with the concept that all of human's needs and goals in life come in stages.
Basic needs are at the bottom (the foundation) and more superficial needs are at the top.

The goal of every human being is to reach to top of the pyramid, self-actualization, being the best that you can be, yada yada yada. Pretty self explanatory:

Change gears for just a second with me. Honors Art Foundations: ART152H.
Memorize the names and artists of 50 famous paintings, take trips to the DIA and the Frederick Meijer Gardens, learn basic principles of art and design, discuss art at a professional level, so on and so forth.
But the "honors" idea of this course means we're also discussing Mazlow. Where does art fit into this?

Traditionally, Mazlow's hierarchy puts art and creativity as a self-actualization need. You have to have accepted yourself, gained respect and intimacy, and maintained all of your physiological and safety needs before you can think about creating things.
But I've got a problem with that, as does our prof.

If art is a self-actualization need... 
Why did people in concentration camps create art?
Why is art therapy such an important part of inpatient AND outpatient hospitalization for things like suicidality and depression? 
Why are things like dance and theater so freeing for people struggling with maintaining a healthy self-esteem?
Some of these groups aren't even above a "level 1" according to Mazlow! 

Here's a prime example from a friend of mine working internationally to end sex trafficking (check out her blog at ...her photo here:)

(Megan's words: )
"Yesterday we visited a former brothel in Svay Pak, a village formerly notorious for child trafficking. It was once estimated that over 90% of the children living in the village were victims of forced prostitution. In the brothel they showed us the one room they still have intact. At first it just seemed like a room to me but, then I turned around a saw this drawing on the wall. Suddenly this room was real to me. So many girls were trapped inside the four walls I was standing in. Some young girl probably drew this picture while she passed the horrific time between clients. The artist has a name and a story..."

Why did this girl who, according to Mazlow is a level 1, likely lacking even immediate safety needs, create art? Art did nothing to move her up the scale. Art did not make her safe. Art did not improve her immediate condition. Art did not erase the pain or the shame she was forced into time after time, john after john, day after day.
Why did she make art?

So here's what I walked out of that class today thinking and mulling over:
Art is a part of the human condition.
Art is a part of what makes humanity, humanity. 
We were made in the image of our Creator, and each of us has a part of the Master Creator within us. 
Organized religion usually falls, according to Mazlow, in the "Esteem" category. 
Dance and photography and creation and literature and expression are a part of self-actualization... but what if they're not?

Here's my proposal.
Somewhere between physiological and safety needs, we need to add in the concept of hope.
Hope is a requirement for the human condition. We have to believe that there is a chance, however slim, that there's something more than the brokenness we feel in whatever situation. 
If we're lucky enough to have been born into a middle class US background, this concept of hope could mean "I believe that I can become more than that label that someone put on me. I believe that I can succeed in this class/job/etc." But if we're not...maybe hope means "I believe that there is a chance, however slim, that I'll make it out of this concentration camp alive. I believe that there is a possibility for me to escape the cycle of prostitution. I believe that I can rise above my family's extreme poverty."

Art is an expression of hope.

But what about sad art? What about drawings of girls scrawled on brothel walls? What about photographs of death or abstract paintings depicting deep emotional turmoil? What if the artist is feeling hopeless?

Expression of pain...maybe even that is a sign of hope. 

What if we hypothesize that art created with the emotional mentality "This REALLY sucks!" is a simplistic way of saying the words that our hearts can't always fathom
...that maybe art created in pain is also a way of saying "Someone come take a look at this. Look at everything that's wrong with the present situation. Let me draw your attention to earth's brokenness and pain and maybe you or someone you know have the skills to pour a little bit of life and light into this situation. This is not fair, what are you going to do to fix it?"

So I leave you, me, and the globe (or the what...twelve people that'll ever read this post) with an idea...

Art is a fundamental part of the human condition. 
The need for creation is built in to us just like the need for food and pooping. 
Humanity needs to express itself in order to survive.
Art is as essential as breathing. 

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