Self-Esteem 2: Artworks

Three posts ago, I talked about artworks that show characters which have separated themselves from others by being members of a group dedicated to a certain task.  They had not yet been exposed to actual gains and losses of reputation or finances.  This is the first part of building self-esteem; developing strength, confidence and independence from others.

Once this first part is completed by being accepted into prestigious clubs, schools, civic, cultural, and religious organizations, job positions, tournaments, etc., then success at these positions will give rise to recognition, prestige, importance, and appreciation.  This second part, involving risks to one’s reputation and financial position, will complete the satisfaction of the self-esteem need.  The individual is now at Maslow’s and Csikszentmihalyi’s second to last level of human development.

It has taken a long time to get to this level and, according to a 1998 Gallop poll, less than 15% of the American population ever reaches this level.

Below are selected artworks from my book that present the achievement of this second to last level of human development.  Pay particular attention to the painting by Bellows.

The Organ Rehearsal (Lerolle, 1887, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY)

Organ Rehearsal by Lerolle This great work of art is a prime example of the self-esteem need being satisfied.  The singer’s friends and family, situated behind her, are prominent singers and musicians themselves.  Even though only a rehearsal, the singer is exposed to the risk of failure before her family and friends should she not sing beautifully, on time, and on key.  The scene in the darkened balcony overlooking a great open and well-lit space is thick with apprehension.  Even the onlookers on the left seem concerned with her performance.

Dempsey and Firpo

George Bellows, 1882-1925, Dempsey and Firpo, (1924).  Oil on canvas, 50 1/4 x 62 3/8 in. (127.6 x 158.4 cm).  Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchased with funds from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney 31.95.  Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins

Dempsey and Firpo by Bellows This work presents an historic fight; the first time that a Latin American fighter (Firpo in purple trunks) would challenge another boxer (Dempsey) for the World Heavyweight title.  The fighters in the ring bring front and center the culmination of the self-esteem need with the ultimate success of the fight leading to high self-esteem.  The fighters, exhibiting strength and confidence, are much larger in scale than the spectators.  The flash bulbs in the background have the appearance of a group of spirits awaiting the outcome of the match in order to approach the winner (this is significant imagery foreshadowing the next level of human development).  

Death Be Not Proud, Holy Sonnet 10 (Donne, ca 1610)

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,

Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,

And soonest our best men with thee do go,

Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.

Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,

And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well

And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?

One short sleep past, we wake eternally

And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

In this famous poem, the poet has personified death.  He argues with death stating that death is a slave of man and can be overcome in the afterlife.  He states that with the death of one’s body, the spiritual life is awakened and man is victorious.  This is a metaphysical fight and one that the poet believes, through logic and faith, he has won.  Another example of the self-esteem needs being satisfied through success of an “exposure” activity.

   No Rack Can Torture Me (Dickinson, 1890)

No Rack can torture me—

My Soul—at Liberty—

Behind this mortal Bone

There knits a bolder One—

You cannot prick with saw—

Nor pierce with Scimitar—

Two Bodies—therefore be—

Bind One—The Other fly—

The Eagle of his Nest

No easier divest—

And gain the Sky

Than mayest Thou—

Except Thyself may be

Thine Enemy—

Captivity is Consciousness—

So’s Liberty.

The poet proclaims that no one will be able to torture her and that she is too strong inside.  She cannot be killed, for her spirit, the second body, will live on.  She will be as free as the eagle.  She mentions that while she is being held captive to the torture, she is about to be granted liberty.  While those torturing her will win the day (and her “mortal Bone,”) she will win her liberty and freedom (the “bolder One”).  This is a powerful representation of the ultimate independence and freedom gained by one fully prepared for the “exposure” activity.

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