Part 2: Art Collectors through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Continuing our thinking on art and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (see last thread on the relationship of art to the pyramid): Art collectors can be found mainly in the top three stages of the pyramid. People struggling to have basic physiological, safety, and security needs met generally don’t collect original art. Very elderly, students, early career artists, youth, economically challenged people and communities have more basic priorities so their focus isn’t on art to meet them.

The majority of individual art collectors start (and end) at the Love and Belonging stage. They collect works of friends and family where they have connections through intimate relationships with the artist or the place or the subject. Most art is sold to individual collectors at this stage of the pyramid. Smaller art galleries and local museums operate at this stage of collection as well.

For a collector to move to the next Esteem stage, they are serious about collecting art, knowledgeable in the field or about an artist, and most importantly have the financial means to invest. For an artist to move their art from collectors in the Belonging and Love stage to collectors in the Esteem stage, the artist must do a lot of work building a reputation, establishing connections, and creating greater value in themselves and their art.

Art collection at the self-actualization can occur with ANY art collector based on their needs and personal goals. However, to collect art that is ALSO at the TOP of the pyramid, the art collector themselves must have a very high net worth, see significant financial and other value in the art (either its cultural significance, as an investment, or both), and be educated enough to make that investment.

What does all this mean for the artist and their art? Understanding where the art collector is in the hierarchy of needs and where your art is (see last thread), can help you know what your art will sell for and to whom. It can also help an artist know what not to do. For example, if you continue to show your art at local art fairs, that attracts a certain type of art collector who is only going to view your art with a certain value and will only have a limit to what they can pay for a piece.

Selling to family and friends also keeps your art in a certain price range because they, as collectors, will most likely stay in the Belonging and Love stage, and that will limit your art’s financial value. Reproductions and prints of your work are mainly going to be sold to people in the bottom two stages, and that limits the price of those reproductions and prints because your collectors are limited.

To get your work be valued art collectors in the Esteem stage, you’ll need help and exposure, and good art too. That requires a helping hand from galleries, academics, media, and institutions who exist in those top two stages. We’ll talk about them in the next post.


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.