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The Value of Art

Imagine a world without art – what would it be like? No music, no painting, no dance, no theater or film – no statues, no jewelry – no poetry. In short, no beauty, no fun, no inspiration. A prison. Grey, cold, empty thoughtless, emotionless – apathy.

I wonder all the time, why my classes do not fill up to the brim!? The art of belly dance – like all dance (and art), brings so much to the lives of the people who study and perform it. Exercise, expression, camaraderie with other women or men who share the same love, an understanding and appreciation of music and culture, self-discipline, inspiration, becoming who you are - not being like everyone else.

And, for audiences art brings inspiration and catharsis, thought-provoking, feeling- provoking suspension from the daily grind. Visions of a better life and world; improved imagination and better solutions to problems. Art is a win-win activity for everyone - yet it is not valued by society for anything beyond the amusement and fun it offers to people. Or worse, a form of investment for collector's. Indeed, according to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, art is an essential element in the evolution of human development - to becoming self-actualized.

Being an artist is living in an upside-down hierarchy of needs. We live at the bottom Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs, doomed to the never-ending struggle of acquiring fundamental survival requirements – food, shelter and clothing – while, at the same time, being actualized, loved, and filled with self-esteem. It's unside-down!

For those who are not familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, here it is from Wikipedia:

[Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation" in Psychological Review. Maslow subsequently extended the idea to include his observations of humans' innate curiosity. His theories parallel many other theories of human developmental psychology, some of which focus on describing the stages of growth in humans. He then decided to create a classification system which reflected the universal needs of society as its base and then proceeding to more acquired emotions. Maslow's hierarchy of needs is used to study how humans intrinsically partake in behavioral motivation. Maslow used the terms "physiological", "safety", "belonging and love", "social needs" or "esteem", and "self-actualization" to describe the pattern through which human motivations generally move. This means that in order for motivation to occur at the next level, each level must be satisfied within the individual themselves. Furthermore, this theory is a key foundation in understanding how drive and motivation are correlated when discussing human behavior. Each of these individual levels contains a certain amount of internal sensation that must be met in order for an individual to complete their hierarchy. The goal in Maslow's theory is to attain the fifth level or stage: self-actualization.]

Like religious figures and teachers, we artists achieve self-actualization through our art/work. We are loved and we love deeply – subjectively and objectively, and we have tremendous self-esteem. Like spiritual/religious leaders, teachers, we feed the minds and souls of people – as much or more than the bodies and this puts us in a category of “non-essential” to survival. We usually depend on hand-outs and donations. We are the non-profit sector of societies.

This (paraphrased) saying speaks loudly to the upside-down placement that education, art and spirituality have in our society:

It will be a great day when our schools (spiritual leaders and artists), get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.

I think utopia will be a time and place where there is balance and harmony in the world, and from this there will be prosperity for all. It starts with giving value to all parts of life and living – not just to the acquisition of food, shelter, possessions and military might,but to the environmental as well as intellectual, spiritual and artistic life. These are just as important to our survival as food and shelter, clothes and toys.

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