terror management – Ernest Becker Foundation

‘The awareness of death engenders potentially debilitating terror that is “managed” by the development and maintenance of cultural worldviews: humanly constructed beliefs about reality shared by individuals that minimize existential dread by conferring meaning and value.’


This seems to me to be a plausible account of the way we feel about art (remember how we celebrate and preserve art works e.g. Emi’s stuff and Asia’s stuff and Abi’s stuff) (but also remember that within this theory we are still left with the question about how we assess stuff as worth preserving – what criteria we use) and about the anxiety we feel when our ideas are challenged ( vide the vituperation there is in discourse on art)

But how would you go about assessing whether or not this account is true?

What use to us is there of this insight (if it is an insight, i.e. a truth)?

Can the subjective feeling we get when we look at a piece of art that moves us – the very particular feeling be cited as part of a discussion of the viability of this theory/insight?

How can this be linked with Gell’s theory of art as agency and living presence?

It strikes me that this idea is very useful when it comes to why we make art.  However, can it tell us anything about the criteria which we use to hierarchise art, that is, to assign more value to one piece of art over another – prizes/prices/criticalattention.preservation etcetera.?

The reference below seems relevant – I can access it online at Leeds Uni library

European Review of Social Psychology
Volume 21, 2010 – Issue 1

On graves and graven images: A terror management analysis of the psychological functions of art

We present an existential account of the psychological function of artistic activity derived from terror management theory. From this perspective, artistic creation and response alleviate concerns with mortality by affording opportunities to bolster cultural belief systems that provide death-transcending meaning and significance. We review research showing that reminders of mortality exaggerate people’s responses (positive and negative) to artworks that bear on their conceptions of death, cultural ideologies and symbols, and bases of meaning. We also review research on the interplay between the motives for terror management and creative self-expression. We compare a TMT analysis to alternative accounts of art’s function derived from uncertainty management theory (e.g., van den Bos, 2009 van den Bos, K. 2009. On the psychology of the uncertain self and the integration of the worldview defence zoo. Psychological Inquiry, 20: 252–261.
[Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar]
) and the meaning maintenance model (Heine, Proulx, & Vohs, 2006 Heine, S. J., Proulx, T. and Vohs, K. D. 2006. Meaning maintenance model: On the coherence of social motivations. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10: 88–110.
[PubMed], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar]
). We conclude by recommending that future research examine whether immersive aesthetic engagement is psychologically beneficial because it provides temporary relief from the awareness of death.

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