I was going to rage about the fact that people always seem to choose comfort over aesthetics; that art and artists do not stand a chance in a world where beauty is a second rate citizen.
This temporary insight came to me in a garden. With the hot, dry summer not letting up, plants were suffering. People preferred to save water, while overspending on electricity to keep air conditioners running day in and out. Swimming pools monopolised any outdoor water supply. Clearly, the comfort of cool air and water was much more important than the beauty of a flourishing garden.
Similarly, people would rather buy a new lounge suite than a painting or choose the latest kitchen utensil over the latest poetry collection. So not only comfort, but utility, comes first.
I thought that this might somehow fit with the well-known pyramid of needs that Maslow proposed, where people’s needs are satisfied in a hierarchy moving from physiological to safety, then love/belonging, esteem and finally self-actualisation. Obviously the physiological or physical needs of comfort and utility would have higher priority than art.
(By the way, where does art fit into this pyramid? Do we need art? Of course we do, but why? We’ll leave that question for another day.)
To get back to the comfort-aesthetics rivalry – so people prefer physical comfort to spiritual enrichment. Or do they?
Not all people. Maybe not even the most people. Just some of the people some of the time. Take the crowds who will suffer significant physical discomfort to attend a music concert, whether it is standing in queues to get tickets or standing through a performance by their favourite rock star. Art wins out over comfort.
Or take someone who buys a bouquet of flowers instead of a ready-made meal; someone who buys a book instead of a drink; someone who does spend the dollars to beautify a garden. Even – and this is where aesthetics merges into vanity in a scary continuum – someone who spends the food money on a new red dress.
So my theory died a rapid death. Physical survival (comfort, food, safety) might be an evolutionary necessity, but often the need for spiritual survival will jump the queue. What a relief. Long live beauty!
(Now go on, buy that work of art, that pretty trinket, that bouquet, that red dress!)