In This Bloutcher Where Art, Life and Leadership Collide
- Homo Sapiens or Homo Faber??
Homo Sapiens or Homo Faber??
I recently had the opportunity to give a talk at a college in Reading, PA. Before the talk Karen and I took a walk around downtown Reading and were delighted to discover a number of art galleries. So I was totally surprised to learn that Reading is the second poorest city of its size in the country with a significant crime rate. How do you explain the presence of so many art galleries in such a poor community?
Doesn’t this fly in the face of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in which he suggests that physiological and safety needs are more foundational than “self actualization” needs such as achieving one’s full potential, including creative activities? Maslow’s idea is that before you can devote yourself to creative self expression you first need to feel safe, have food on the table and heat in your place.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
Self Actualization—achieving one’s full potential, including creative activities
Esteem needs: prestige and feeling of accomplishment
Belongingness and love needs—intimate relationships, friends
Safety needs—security, safety
Physiological needs—food, water, warmth, rest
I think Maslow missed something big.
For one thing, I doubt he ever visited the caves at Lascaux or Chavet in France or Altimira in Spain. If he had he would have realized that the need for humans—homo sapiens—to create art is as fundamental as the drive to meet physiological and safety needs. It’s right there on the cave walls—30,000 to 40,000 years ago. Concurrent with wondering where their next meal would come from or whether they might be swallowed up by a saber tooth tiger at any moment, these cave dwellers were scratching images from pigments and animal fat. Iron oxide was used to paint in red, manganese oxide for black and ochre gave them yellow hues. One could even argue that art is the mother of chemistry!
And a bit more recently I do not know how he would account for the children of Theresienstadt Concentration Camp whose hunger gnawed at their very bones and they never knew when they would next be sent to their death yet managed to create powerfully poignant art.
That is why the great Dutch historian Johan Huizinga suggested the name homo sapiens—Man the Knower–is a misnomer. As he wryly observed during the Nazi occupation: “We are not so reasonable after all….” He preferred Homo Faber and Homo Ludens—Man the Maker and Man the Player. We are equally and simultaneous knowing, making and playing creatures.
So I would suggest we play with the idea of flipping Maslow on his head. Perhaps fear for our safety, fear of our imminent death and the absence of food and heat are perhaps the very drivers of creative expression. Such fear and want elevate our sense of existential transience. They demand we leave an EVIDENCE before it is too late! That yes, we were here and here is our mark, our proof. I claim my presence in an unforgiving and ephemeral universe! The drive to create art arises from the need to leave an evidence against the terrors of the world and therefore perhaps are as basic as our physiological and safety needs.
But let’s not stop here. Let’s ask the question—if our need for leaving an evidence is foundational , then what are the implications to leaders? What does that suggest we need to be mindful of as it relates to those in our organizations?
What do you think?