Part 1: Art through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

We’ve been thinking about how the financial value of art, artists, galleries and collectors connects to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We’ll start with art itself in general. (Note: Individual pieces may travel up and down! the pyramid.)

At the lowest Physiological part of the pyramid, art is purely functional: the sculpture is needed as a paperweight; stretched canvas is used as a shelter from the rain for a homeless person. Art in this stage has little monetary value.

As art moves up to the Safety stage it becomes transactional. Art begins to have more than functional value, it has financial value, albeit low. How can it be sold or traded for money or services that provide me security and safety? Most hobbyist, student, and early artist career art starts and stays at this stage. It lives in art fairs, sidewalk shows, university galleries, etc. Prices can range from less than one hundred to a couple of thousand dollars.

The vast majority of art stays in the belongingness and love stage, holding small but meaningful financial value for friends and family of the artist and based primarily on relationships with the artist. It lives in the homes of friends and family and group shows and art fairs. The top range of this stage is less than $20K.

When art breaks into the Esteem stage with prestige and accomplishment, it has significant financial value. The art is well recognized regionally, or in a specific genre or movement, or has come from an established career artist. It is displayed and sold in galleries, exhibits, museums, and in the homes of discerning collectors. This art ranges from the tens of thousands to the hundreds of thousands.

Art that reaches the Self-actualization phase becomes part of the national or global art world. This art is almost exclusively at museums and institutions of cultural significance or private, high-net-worth collectors and investors. The art is recognizable by the global public and represents significant or irreplaceable cultural importance. Its financial value is millions to hundreds of millions.

Next we’ll look at how art relates to artists along the hierarchy of needs.


Frank McClung is Miriam McClung’s son and the managing executive and curator of the Miriam McClung Collection.

Miriam McClung is an artist from Birmingham, Alabama, and has been creating works of art in oils, pastels, ink, charcoal, pencil and everything in between for over 70 years. You can follow her on her Instagram account @miriammcclungart.