Part 3: Art Institutions through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Art and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs posts continued (see two previous posts for art (part 1) and art collectors (part 2) and the needs hierarchy):

Museums and major cultural institutions generally collect and show art that itself is in the upper two stages of Maslow’s pyramid–Self Esteem and Self Actualization. The financial value of this art is way outside of the hierarchy needs of most people other than high net worth collectors who are also at the top stages of the pyramid.

This tension–possessing art at the highest stage of the pyramid and trying to serve people at the lower to middle stages of the pyramid who don’t “need” that art leads to some interesting dynamics.
To connect with the majority in the lower stages of Safety/Security and Love/Belonging, museums create low-barrier memberships, exhibits, programs, and access to high-value art. In a sense, museums “purchase” art at the of the pyramid, and “share” the art with the community at the lower stages.

Thus, museums become public “gatekeepers” and “distributors” of high-value art for communities. The higher up art on the pyramid that museums acquire, the higher up the pyramid the museum moves and the more cultural power they obtain then wield in the art world and beyond.

This dynamic allows museums to create value in a piece of art and in artists whose work they acquire. This is why you hear about artists donating work to museums in the hope that having the piece in the museum’s collection will burnish their reputation and increase the value of their other work. Museums accept these pieces with the hope that the artist/the art will, in turn, serve their members and/or move the museum up the needs hierarchy through exhibits and/or resale to high-stage collectors.

Tax rules are a significant motivator to fulfill the needs of an artist estate/ legacy preservation and a museum’s funding /collection enhancement. The tax rule motivation itself for both parties though, is mostly transactional and stays in the Safety and Security stage of Maslow’s pyramid. This transactional tax benefit doesn’t do much to move the art or artist up the pyramid. It can move the museum up the pyramid if the art, artist or donation is significant enough.

Moving art and an art career from the lower to middle stages of the needs pyramid to the higher/highest stages of needs and value will require a courtship/relationship with museums…and galleries. We’ll talk about that next.