Higher Needs Not Met? Look to the Bottom.

One of the many tricky things about being a starving artist, is that so many of one’s basic needs are not met. When basic needs are not attended to, our sense of balance becomes out of whack. As our balance is off, most of us are not able to operate at our potential or achieve any sense of sustainable happiness.

One of the key benefits of having balance, is that we are able to use our energies to focus on things beyond our “lower” needs and can focus more on our “higher needs”.

If you have never heard of Maslow and his theory of the “Hierarchy of Needs”, take note of the image here and I’ll explain.

Basically, as the pyramid depicts,  our very basic needs (most important) are on the bottom. This includes those primal needs like breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, excretion. As those needs are met, we are able to fulfill needs of the next tier–that of SECURITY–in way of family, work, health, etc…and up and up. Here is the trick: If one of your basic, bottom levels develops a void (or gets problematic), you may not progress forward with higher needs (or even stay on the same level). Instead, like so many children’s board games, you must slide down to the lower level and fill the more basic of needs (whatever is missing at that level), before continuing.

Makes sense, right? If you can’t breath, you can’t attend to your family needs like your daughter’s recital. In the same, if you are going through a divorce, it can be very difficult to maintain self-esteem, much less being able to log some serious hours in creating your art. If you just got laid off, as so many have in our new economy, you may have felt like the floor just dropped out from under you and that a slide awaits your butt.

Now, what in the world does this have to do with entrepreneurship or the arts?

Many of our artists are stuck in the hand to mouth pattern of trying to survive (hence the cliche of the “starving artist”). That typical path, usually demands that the artists have a “survival job”–hence the cliche of the artists really being waiters or bartenders. Those sometimes necessary jobs, often and typically do not require too much in way of skill. In fact, the jobs are designed for a disposable workforce–one that can be replaced without too much effort or cost in training. Consequently, these “survival jobs” do not pay much. Artists seek such jobs, as they require something flexible or disposable. Ironically, as they are committing their limited daily energy towards that disposable position, they are making themselves more and more so. Artists have the potential to be Necessary. Then…on occasion (for some it is more frequent than others), the dangling carrot swings close enough, that the artists are able to grab and eat it. They get an industry job! Whew hoo…for two to six months. Now the artist can leave their survival jobs for a while and do so with glee. When the artistic job ends, if there is not more artistic work immediately available, most return to “survival job mode”…or end up on unemployment as long as benefits allow or until new employment. Loop. Loop. Loop.

What a lifestyle. It is certainly not for the faint of heart. It is for the persistent dreamer, who is willing to sacrifice lifestyle potential for a chance at the golden ring. Passion.

But why such an absolute? I don’t like to call people artists. That is too vague and limiting (and most people think of painters). I like to say Creative Artists. Creative artists are, first and foremost, creators.

We, the educators, need to be teaching our creative artists how to have a wider directional perspective. What can they do with their skills, to make a living, to stand out, to compete?

We need to teach them how to create opportunity, as traditional ones are too sparse. It is about teaching them how to be self-leaders, more independent and more self-sufficient.

We need a new standard in American Arts Education. When artists receive techniques that are a marriage of artistic and entrepreneurial/skills, they know how to make a living via their art.

Imagine the cultural implications.

Jim Hart is Director of Arts Entrepreneurship at Southern Methodist University. Hart is the founder of The International Theatre Academy Norway.

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One thought on “Higher Needs Not Met? Look to the Bottom.

  1. I really appreciated this article. Your writing style is very simple and easy to understand. You are able to take very complex ideas and present them with ease.

    Keep them coming!

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