INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
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Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 150 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.

SEE MORE ESSAYS WRITTEN BY ELLIOT BENJAMIN

THE ARTISTIC THEORY
OF PSYCHOLOGY

Elliot Benjamin

One can say that an artistic nature represents the qualities in a person that prioritizes the quest for truth and creative expression over the more earthly material attainments of comfort and security.

There has been much historical speculation regarding the relationship of the creative artist to mental disturbance, where by creative art I mean various forms of creativity, inclusive of visual art, music, poetry, fiction, acting, creative philosophy, creative mathematics, and much more. In recent years there has been a good deal of research which lends support to these speculations; in particular see the research studies of Kay Jamison, Ruth Richards, and Nancy Andreasen [1]. But in order to truly compare the creative artist with the mentally disturbed person, we need to first understand the psychology of the artistic person. In two of my previous Integral World essays,Integral Psychology and an Artistic View of Mental Disturbance, and The Creative Artist, Eccentricity, and Mental Disturbance: Part 1: The Journal of a Struggling Actor—my Actor/Writer Son [2], I have initially discussed the psychology of the artistic person, both from a philosophical perspective and from a narrative perspective in regard to the experiences of my 31-year-old son Jeremy in his current quest to become a successful Hollywood actor/creative artist [3]. I formulated the basic framework of what I have referred to the “Artistic Theory of Psychology” in my Integral Psychology and an Artistic View of Mental Disturbance article (written in 2006), and expanded upon this in a lengthier article in 2008 in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology [4]. The basic framework that I described for the Artistic Theory of Psychology is as follows:

  1. The successful creative artist resonates with the highest levels of Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human potential.
  2. There are people labeled as mentally ill who have the potential of becoming successful creative artists.
  3. A sensitive, understanding, and supportive educational environment may be conducive to enabling a mentally disturbed person with creative artistic potential to significantly develop and actualize this potential in life.

As I am very much an artistic person myself, I won't hesitate to use my own self-knowledge as part of my attempt to understand the creative artist. I have for many years gone through my own conflicts between my artistic nature and my psychological nature, and I would like to include in this article an excerpt from an essay I wrote in 1976, entitled The Psychologist and the Artist [5], in which I use the term “real psychologist” to describe a psychologist who studies the deeper existential/transpersonal core of a human being.

It is the job of the “real psychologist” to study the artist. The psychologist is blessed with the gift of understanding. This is his or her art. At first glance, and indeed for quite a while, the psychologist plays an obvious second fiddle to the artist whom he or she studies. The psychologist must learn all she or he can from the artist. The artist is a very unusual person. The artist has allowed “the beautiful“ to come out of him/herself to such an extent that a product in the external world is made. “The beautiful” is what the psychologist is interested in. The psychologist studies “the beautiful.” The psychologist goes all around the world in search of “the beautiful.” The artist is much more limited in this regard. The artist knows only her/himself. The artist knows his/her own creation, but need not understand it. The artist is the experience, so to speak; the stuff out of which it is made. But there are many artists. Each has her/his own unique contribution. But think of the possibilities of putting all these unique contributions together. Each artist is like a burning spark. The spark needs other sparks and all the sparks together need some sort of connection in order to make a fire. The psychologist is the connection—and the integrator. The psychologist understands the sparks. The psychologist loves the sparks. Perhaps the psychologist wishes that he or she were a spark him/herself. But the psychologist is not; at least not as of yet, for the psychologist has not earned it yet. The psychologist has a job to do; a very important job. The psychologist must connect the sparks and must integrate the sparks. In order to do so, of course the psychologist must possess a bit of the spark within her/himself. But to fully become a spark, the psychologist must connect and integrate other sparks. In this way, the “real” psychologist may become an artist.

The above excerpt was inspired by the chapter Psychology and Literature from Carl Jung's book Modern Man in Search of a Soul [6]. I see Jung, along with William James [7], as one of the first “real” psychologists, and one who has done justice to studying the artistic personality. In more recent times, I would include Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, R.D. Laing, Ken Wilber, Stanislav Grof, Roger Walsh, Rollo May, Deepak Chopra, Jack Kornfield, Jim Bugental, Wayne Dyer, Viktor Frankl, Thomas Szasz, Irvin Yalom, Kirk Schneider, and a growing number of others in the category of being “real” psychologists. It is rather ironic and perhaps fateful that I am now a psychologist myself, as I received my Ph.D in psychology last year, soon after my 62nd birthday. My specialization was in Consciousness and Spirituality, and I like to consider myself to also be a “real” psychologist; perhaps this article can be viewed as one of my contributions to this noble endeavor.

For many years now I have required myself to learn new things every day, including my immersion in the world of pure mathematics [8], and to make this a priority in my life. My ability to learn in this way is at its peak in the early morning hours, and when I was younger this repeatedly put me in severe confrontation with our society's most common form of work: the 9 to 5 job [9]. In the course of my 21 years as a mathematics professor at a small college in Maine, I was able to keep a semblance of my internal creativity schedule, but I learned how to survive in day-to-day reality at a heavy price and constant struggle to retain my own primary personal art form of pure mathematics. My ongoing pure mathematics post-Ph.D. research was my saving grace for all these years (cf. [9]). And my son Jeremy, after graduating college nine years ago, initially faced the very same kind of conflict that I faced when I was his age. After being an engineering major for three and a half years at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and not achieving high enough grades to earn his engineering degree, Jeremy finished up his degree in creative writing and subsequently began working as a mechanical draftsman at a low salary and difficult working conditions. I have always known that my son Jeremy has a similar kind of artistic personality in his deepest core to the kind of artistic personality that I have, which was especially evident from his self-immersion in writing [10], and Jeremy's captivating current struggling actor story of keeping his creative artistic dreams alive is vividly described through his journal writings (cf. [2], [3]).

Why has it always been so very difficult for me to compromise myself—and why has this same difficulty reappeared in my son? What was this combined beauty and beast in me that defied my own practical welfare in pursuit of a few kernels of wisdom? And what is it in my son Jeremy that has propelled him into all the unbelievable drama, antics, and continuous turmoil and ups and downs of his current life as an aspiring and struggling Hollywood actor in Los Angeles (cf. [2], [3])? I contend that for both me and Jeremy, it was—and is—our “artistic natures”; artistic natures that were always very much there, but ones that have finally started to emerge into our society—for both of us.

Although I have severe differences in political opinion from Ayn Rand [11], I believe that Rand has described creative art with exceptional clarity and beauty in her novels [12]. She wrote about a human being's “sense of life,” and described creative art as the reproduction in the universe of one's innermost being. To Ayn Rand, creative art was nothing less then the rejuvenation of one's very soul. And to my way of thinking, this description of creative art is not very different from the meaning that many people find in authentic spirituality, serving a similar function to that of God and religion [13]. Many people are amazed at how I could have experienced all the diverse modern religions and new age spiritual organizations that I have written about in my Modern Religions book [14]. The truth is that this has been my way of continuing to search for both spiritual meaning in life as well as the feeling of living in a utopian world.

I offer my personal disclosures in this article as an illustration of both my own artistic nature as well as the artistic nature of others, including my son Jeremy. For how similarly to my experience of being immersed in my mathematical world must fully engaged musicians, painters, poets, and actors feel when they are immersed in their own creative endeavors. One can say that an artistic nature represents the qualities in a person that prioritizes the quest for truth and creative expression over the more earthly material attainments of comfort and security, and I am including idealistic beneficial social and ethical innovations here as well. Working musicians, successful painters, celebrated poets, famous writers and actors, and pure mathematicians with mathematics professor jobs—these are the artistic natures that are renowned and respected in our society and are admired for their glorious achievements.

I walk around with my own visions, my own creations, my own universe so to speak. But how different really am I from our neighborhood schizophrenic in a mental institution? I call myself a creative artist/philosopher and society calls the other person “mentally ill.” But why is it that when I was working at Northampton State Hospital in the 1980s, I was able to relate with and communicate so much better with the mental patients than I could with the staff [16]? Luckily for me, I have quite a bit of the concrete mathematical and psychological nature in me also, which balances my artistic nature enough to insure that I will not become “mentally ill.” (hopefully!) And thankfully there are enough “real” psychologists in the world who have written inspiring books that prevent me from ever forgetting that I am a legitimate human being who has as much right to live in the world as any of my more “normal” fellow earthlings. But it is no secret to me that I am of a different make-up and composition from the vast majority of my fellows.

When I am alone with myself, struggling to understand Nietzsche or Wilber, and looking forward to being with someone whom I can discuss my ideas with, I know that I am doing something meaningful and intrinsically healthy. I believe there is much overlap of my personality characteristics with people who are described as “introverts” or “loners.” These words “introvert” and “loner” have taken on rather negative associations in our society, but there have been a number of recent books which promote both the creativity and the heroism of people who have personality characteristics that fall under these headings [17]. It is pleasant indeed for the introverted loner when his/her distinct creative qualities and desires can emerge in the world in a harmonious manner, and I believe that I am finally experiencing a taste of this kind of harmonious balance. At any rate, I know deep down that my gift of bona fide passion for lifelong learning and creative development is the kind of gift that makes the world go round.

But what about individuals with artistic natures who seem to be fated to non-existence in terms of public approval and respect? Is it because they are not as talented as their happier fellows? Perhaps it is because they are not as lucky or do not work as hard as their happier fellows; perhaps it is a combination of various factors. I believe that for some of these individuals their artistic natures are no less real to them than they are to their more successful counterparts—and yet they end up experiencing the harsh consequences of a seemingly unfeeling society towards their predicament of not being able to express their fundamental artistic needs and potentials in the world. Could it not be that some of these individuals with artistic natures give up the struggle to allow their real selves, i.e. their intrinsic artistic talents and deep inclinations, to emerge, and consequently wind up in mental hospitals—being classified as “mentally ill”? My son Jeremy is currently immersed in this poignant process of struggling to allow his real self to survive and gain recognition, as described in his struggling actor journal entries (cf. [2], [3]). And as can be seen from Jeremy's revealing journal descriptions, he has an impressive degree of resilience that I believe will help him to avoid this tragic fate of winding up in a mental hospital (cf. [2], [3]).

There is a popular myth that all artists are a bit “crazy”—given weight to by a number of unfortunate cases of alcoholism, drug addiction, severe depression, abusive behavior, mental hospitalization, and suicide, by some of our most well-known creative geniuses: such as Van Gogh, Hermann Hesse, Nietzche, Picasso, Richard Wagner, Jackson Pollock, Virginia Woolf, Edgar Allen Poe, Lord Byron, Robert Schumann, etc., many of whom are described quite vividly in the books Creativity & Madness and Touched with Fire [18]. But my interest is as much with the unsuccessful creative artist as it is with the successful creative artist. It is only the focus upon the psychology of experience, as one finds in existential psychology, humanistic psychology, transpersonal psychology, psychodynamic psychology, and integral psychology, where the psychologies focus upon the inner world of the person, that enables us to truly understand the deeper experience of a human being. And how often would we be amazed at the depth of human feeling and creative potential that could emerge out of our “schizophrenic” mental patient (cf. [4]). I am not suggesting that our society should reward lesser ability in an art form for the sake of a person's mental health. This would not be fair to the successful creative artist nor to our more ordinary citizen. But along the lines of Thomas Szasz and R.D. Laing (cf. [16]), I am strongly advocating that our society stop labeling our mental patients superficially, and begin to develop an appreciation of the artistic creative potential that many of our mental patients may possess in the depths of their being.

Thus I am proposing a new theory of psychology; not one to replace what we already have, but one to add to our storehouse of psychological knowledge.

Thus I am proposing a new theory of psychology; not one to replace what we already have, but one to add to our storehouse of psychological knowledge. The Artistic Theory of Psychology stresses a different focal point of comparison for our criteria of mental health and normality. I define the successful creative artist to be a person who has received the respect and acknowledgement for his or her work by a community of her or his peers or society-at-large, and who is also considered both psychologically and ethically to be a “well adjusted” member of his or her society and the greater world (cf. [2], [4]). For a reasonable method of determining a criteria for being psychologically and ethically well adjusted, we may utilize the well-established psychosocial theory of Erik Erikson [19], as well as scales of morality, ego development, self-actualization, and spirituality, as described by Lawrence Kohlberg, Jane Loevenger, Abraham Maslow, and Ken Wilber (cf. [2], [4], [20]. I use the term “creative artist” to include various creative disciplines such as music, writing, painting, dance, acting, mathematics, etc., as well as socially creative innovations that are beneficial to humankind, such as represented by the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Mother Teresa. I follow in the footsteps of Abraham Maslow in his study of self-actualized successful people and his reliance upon mental health rather than mental “illness” (cf. [20]).

I can think of quite a few well-known creative artists who have been widely acclaimed in terms of public respect and acknowledgement for their work, including Einstein, Beethoven, Hermann Hesse, Jung, Freud, Picasso, Ayn Rand, Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Bach, Mozart, Goethe, Rubens, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Rumi, Gauss, Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, Ken Wilber, Van Gogh, Gershwin, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, etc. In all these cases, a human life was lived and a creative process unfolded. However, it is a more difficult task to determine the “well adjusted” part of my definition of the successful creative artist, although this criteria seems to me to be of the utmost importance if we want to formulate artistic creation as a model of human excellence. If our educational system were more humanistically oriented (c.f. [4], [21]), I believe there would be tremendously more creative artists practicing their art successfully in my full definition of successful creative artist. It appears that the personal sensitivity and understanding available in a supportive educational environment toward a person who is artistically inclined can have a significant effect upon a person developing her or his artistic potential in life (cf. [4], [15]).

I am concentrating on the “possible” psychology of the human, the God-like epitome of what a human being is capable of achieving in life [22]. And in my more extended definition of the creative artist, I consider the religious personages of Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tsu, and other religious/spiritual visionaries to also be creative artists, as surely they lived their lives in the experience of their innermost beings, and they all were highly creative and productive in their own lifetimes. Creative artists know their mission in life; it is to be who they truly are in the depths of their deepest being, and to express their natural creativity through their chosen artistic mediums. Hopefully, creative artists will receive enough nurturing support from people to help get them through their necessary battle with society and “Reality”—which I refer to as the forces of our mundane everyday life (cf. [4]), and to emerge with a creative product valued by others, and a relatively healthy and balanced personality that satisfies the “well adjusted” part of my definition of the successful creative artist.

Thus I usher in a new “normal” human being; more accurately a new “natural” human being. Based upon an impressive array of recent research studies as described in the collection of articles in the book Eminent Creativity, Everyday Creativity, and Health (cf. [1]), there appears to be an enticing relationship between the creative artist and mental disturbance. Focusing upon the possibility that there are a number of people designated as mentally ill who have significant artistic creative potential within them, I believe that incorporating an artistic theory of psychology into our present framework of psychological theory and therapy could be a tremendously effective means of humanistically encouraging constructive and therapeutic creative artistic potential to emerge from a number of people who are mentally disturbed.

To conclude my Artistic Theory of Psychology on a personal note, I will say that I have always refused to consider myself to be “sick,” and I see this same refusal in my son Jeremy (cf. [2], [3]). Rather, I have viewed myself as being sensitive, vulnerable, creative, and strong, and I see these same qualities in my son, along with a host of rather unusual eccentricities and a remarkable degree of resilience (cf. [2], [3]). There are parts of me that are special and there are parts of me that are ordinary. I have chosen to allow the special parts of me to take dominance over the more ordinary parts. And this is what I am doing when I say that I am a “creative artist/experiential philosopher.”

NOTES

[1] See Nancy Andreasen (2005), Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius. New York: Dana Press; Kay Jamison (1993), Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament. New York: Free Press Paperbacks; Mark Runco & Ruth Richards (1997)(Editors), Eminent Creativity, Everyday Creativity, and Health. London: Ablex.

[2] See Elliot Benjamin (2006), Integral Psychology and an Artistic View of Mental Disturbance; and Elliot Benjamin (2012), The Creative Artist, Eccentricity, and Mental Disturbance: Part 1: The Journal of a Struggling Actor—my Actor/Write Son. Retrieved from www.integralworld.net; also see my preliminary shorter 2006 version of the present article: The Artistic Theory of Psychology. Inner Tapestry Journal, August edition.

[3] See Jeremy Benjamin's (2012/2013) struggling actor blog at http://journalofastrugglingactor.wordpress.com/2012/05

[4] See Elliot Benjamin (2008), Art and Mental Disturbance. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 48(1), pp. 61-88.

[5] My full essay The Psychologist and the Artist will be included in my book The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health, which I expect to be publicly available by the end of 2013.

[6] See Carl Jung (1936), Modern Man in Search of a Soul. New York: Harcourt Brace.

[7] See William James (1958), The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York: New American Library. (Original work published 1902)

[8]. See Elliot Benjamin (2006). My Conception of Integral. Retrieved from www.integralworld.net

[9] My experiences in regard to my confrontations with society in my younger years will be described in more detail in my book The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health (cf. [5]).

[10] See Jeremy Benjamin (2006), After. Richmond, KY: Wings ePress; and Jeremy Benjamin (2009), If I Catch You Reading This. Protland, OR: Inkwater Press.

[11] Although I find Ayn Rand's novels to be wonderfully inspiring, I have some strongly conflicting ideas from her when she describes her political philosophy of objectivism in her nonfiction books, such as in her 1964 book The Virtue of Selfishness. New York: New Amercian Library.

[12] See Any Rand (1943), The Fountainhead. New York: The New American Library; and Ayn Rand (1957), Atlas Shrugged. New York: The New American Library.

[13] See Julia Cameron (1992), The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. New York: Tarcher; Wassily Kandinsky (1914), Concerning the Spiritual in Art; Carl Jung (1936), Modern Man in Search of a Soul (cf. [6]).

[14] See Elliot Benjamin (2013), Modern Religions: An Experiential Analysis and Exposé. Natural Dimension Publications: Swanville, Maine (available at www.lulu.com)

[15] See Ernest Schachel (1959), Metamorphosis. New York: Basic Books, 1959); Otto Rank (1932), Art and Artist: Creative Urge and Personality Development. New York: W.W. Norton & Co; Frank Barron (1972), Artists in the Making. New York: Seminar Press, 1972.

[16] See R.D. Laing (1967), The Politics of Experience. New York: Ballantine Books; Thomas Szasz (1961), The Myth of Mental Illness. San Francisco: Harper Collins; the chapter Schizophrenia and Mysticism in Ken Wilber (1980), The Atman Project. Wheaton, Ill: Quest Books; Ken Kesey (1962), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. New York: Viking Press (and of course see the famous movie!)

[17] See for example Anneli Fufus (2003), Party of One. New York: Marlowe & Co.; Martin Olsen Laney (2002), The Introvert Advantage. New York: Workman.

[18] See Barry Panter, Mary Lee Panter, Evelyn Virshup, & Bernard Virshup (1995)(Editors), Creativity and Madness: Psychological Studies of Art and Artists. Burbank, CA: Aimed Press; Kay Jamison (1993), Touched with Fire (cf. [1]).

[19] See Erik Erikson (1963), Childhood and Society. New York: Norton.

[20] See Ken Wilber (2000), Integral Psychology. Boston: Shambhala; Abraham Maslow (1962), Toward a Psychology of Being. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand; Jane Loevinger (1977), Ego Development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass; Lawrence Kohlberg (1981), Essays on Moral Development, Vol. 1. San Francisco: Harper.

[21] See Carl Rogers (1969), Freedom to Learn. Columbus, Ohio: Charles E. Meriill Pub. Co.; A. S. Neill, (1968), Summerhill School: A New View of Childhood (edited by Albert Lamb), New York: St. Martin's Press.

[22] See Jean Houston (1982), The Possible Human. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher; Barbara Marx Hubbard (2001), Emergence: The Shift from Ego to Essence. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Pub. Co.




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