Check out my review of Ken Wilber's latest book Finding Radical Wholeness

Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 230 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:


The Creative Artist,
The Reality Argument,
and the Conscious
Evolution Movement

Elliot Benjamin

Life is hard knocks. You need food, clothing, and a roof over your head. You can't go fighting the system.

In my previous three Integral World articles, I have described what I refer to as The Artistic Theory of Psychology and have given descriptions of how one may view mental disturbance from an artistic perspective, inclusive of the therapeutic benefits and enhancement of artistic creativity through humanistic education programs [1]. In this essay I would like to focus upon the severe challenges to the creative artist of what I refer to as The Reality Argument, and to then briefly view this in the wider context of Barbara Marx Hubbard's Conscious Evolution movement.

In the 1930s, Otto Rank, a psychoanalyst who was originally in Sigmund Freud's inner circle and then went on to formulate his own psychoanalytic theories, discussed the universal conflict of the creative artist between his or her art and his or her life [2]. In the 1950s, Ernest Schachtel, who was strongly influenced by the humanistic psychoanalytic writer Eric Fromm, focused on his (Schachtel's) concept of “secondary autocentricity” to signify the mundane growth impeding security temptation that occurs in the midst of ordinary adult life [3]. In the 1970s, Frank Barron, a humanistic psychologist who studied creatively extensively, illustrated how in many young student artists in supportive artistic educational environments there is already a strong awareness of the impending difficulties and obstacles that the artist will need to face to make his or her living in the world through practicing her or his art [4].

And in more recent times (1990s and 2000s), there has been a good deal of research that supports a linkage between the creative artist and mental disturbance, inclusive of the work of Nancy Andreason, Kay Jamison, and Ruth Richards [5].

It seems to me that nearly every successful creative artist has at one time or another in his or her life had to face up to my version (see below) of these ideas from the above authors. I refer to these enormous challenging obstacles that the successful creative artist must learn to overcome as The Reality Argument. In my own version (as described in my 2008 related Journal of Humanistic Psychology article (cf. [1])) it goes something like this.

Life is hard knocks. You need food, clothing, and a roof over your head. You can't go fighting the system. You go where the jobs are—where you can make the most money. Get yourself a good secure job and save up for a down payment on a house. Money in the bank, a second car, saving up to put the kids through college, planning your retirement; these are the things you have to start thinking about. Knowing you're covered in case of injury, sickness, death; these necessities cannot be avoided either. Emergencies spring up all around us, and we must be prepared. Sure there is much wrong with the world—but you're not going to change it, so you might as well accept reality. Cut your hair, buy a suit, and polish up your resumé. Say the right things, act enthusiastic but not too enthusiastic, and don't dare question your employer's authenticity—no matter what you might think. For remember that your family is depending upon you; you are the breadwinner, and if you decide to go on some lark like “finding yourself,” what will become of them? Surely you have a sense of responsibility towards those you love. So do your duty, my friend, and take your place in the world of work. Practice your art in your own spare time; it can be a nice relaxing hobby. But stop trying to make your living out of selling your own paintings. It just is not feasible in today's world. I gave up my dream 30 years ago, and it wasn't easy—but I did it just like everyone else did it. And now it is your turn to do it.

The above description I have given of The Reality Argument is personally painfully familiar to me from my own young adulthood. In a more general sense, I believe The Reality Argument represents the tremendous odds stacked against the phenomenon of the successful creative artist. The young painter, writer, musician, with the glimpse of fire and intensity in his or her eyes, all too often turns into the lackadaisical middle-aged person of society with his or her “comfortable” suburban home complete with briefcase, pot belly, and secretary.

Just what is it that I am trying to say here? In my mid-20's I promised myself that I would learn new things every day, developing my innate abilities in mathematics, music, and philosophy. And how extremely difficult it has been for me to retain my ambitious plan of life, for The Reality Argument has often challenged me to my very limits of endurance.

But I have been fortunate to have within me an entity which I call “the math teacher” that has enabled me to acquire my share of “resilience” and “ego strength” [6], which essentially refers to one's ability to bounce back from adversity and become stronger because of the challenges one has overcome. The “math teacher” can go into his society, take out his Ph.D, show off an attractive resumé when needed, cite his 21 years of having been a mathematics professor, and gain the respect and admiration of the “normal” segments of his society. And the “math teacher” can even introduce some innovative mathematics teaching practices into the institution, such as Recreational Number Theory via Numberama (this refers to my mathematics enrichment program and self-published book [7]) and self-paced, competency-based mathematics education. Then the math teacher can go home and transcend his role and once again immerse himself in his art. And The Reality Argument has thereby been fed, without seriously insuring either the artist or society, in spite of the unpleasantness and stress of having to work through the pressures of the teaching and supervision parts of the job that come with the math teacher territory. But all things considered, thank-goodness for the “math teacher.”

However, all too few of our potential creative artists have a “math teacher” in them. I fear that for the vast majority of our potential creative artists, The Reality Argument has killed off their deeper potential creative artist selves long before they turned 30. And I look inside our mental institutions for some of the victims of destruction of The Reality Argument. I look for the victims who were either unable or unwilling to take their places in the world that I believe is all too full of requirements, compromise, and mediocrity. I look with wide open eyes for pure human feeling and beauty. As a creative artist, I want to reach out to other potential creative artists and teach them how to cultivate a “math teacher” in themselves so that they too can confront The Reality Argument.

But to try on a different point of view, now that we have examined the intensely destructive effects that The Reality Argument could have on the potential successful creative artist, let us view Reality from another perspective. Is reality necessarily all that bad?

According to Otto Rank, the successful creative artist finds him/herself in the rather surprising situation of living on the outskirts of society for quite some time, only to eventually be responsible for ushering in a whole new perspective or movement that becomes a dominant mode in the society in which he or she lives (cf. [2]). This viewpoint of the successful creative artist has been masterfully portrayed by well-known novelist Ayn Rand in her novels, most especially in the 1940s and 1950s through her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged [8] (and I will unequivocally state here that I admire Ayn Rand for her novels, not for her political philosophy). The famous 1800s poet William Blake was supported and nourished in his intense visionary and artistic experiences by his mother in his childhood and his wife for virtually his entire adult life.

I'll use the term “Non-Reality” here to describe authentic spirituality, creative art, and self-introspection. Sometimes I hate Reality, and sometimes I am amused by it. I periodically have this need to feel simple and “normal” and to forget that I am an “experiential philosopher.” I basically enjoy my on-campus psychology teaching that I have been engaged in for the past two years, in spite of the challenges of working with 19 and 20-year-olds in our current super-fast-paced technological society; it makes me feel settled and secure, like there is still some kind of place for me in the day-to-day concrete world of society and Reality as I progress through my 60's. I can see that I am in the process of substituting “the psychology teacher” for ”the math teacher” as my armor to feed The Reality Argument.

And it is especially interesting for me to ponder how we may view the meaning of Reality in the context of the Conscious Evolution movement, where at this point I am focusing upon the description of conscious evolution given by Barbara Marx Hubbard [9]. According to Hubbard, Reality is in the process of undergoing significant change as we progress through the evolutionary spiral and hopefully evolve to a new species of human being—the Universal Human [10]. Hubbard continuously stresses how living out our deep “inner callings” and inherent creative potential is what is needed in order for evolution to progress to its next highest level, and to avoid the extinction of our species. Setting aside for the moment whether or not this is true, one thing that I believe can accurately be said is that this viewpoint has much in common with what I have described as The Artistic Theory of Psychology (cf. [1]). Essentially Hubbard is asking that we all become “successful creative artists,” where the term “creative artist,” as I am using it, is inclusive of virtually any creative activity that a person is immersed in—from painting and music and writing to social creativity and scientific creativity.

However, although this view of the transformation of Reality is certainly a welcome one to the potential creative artist, the fact is that it does not change the day-to-day reality that severely challenges the artistic person, which I have described above as The Reality Argument. Being part of an idealistic movement of “evolutionaries” [11] may certainly have rejuvenating beneficial consequences for the potential creative artist who is severely challenged by The Reality Argument, not unlike the beneficial consequences that I have previously described through humanistic education programs (cf. [1]). But the harsh reality remains: the potential creative artist still needs to find a way to earn his/her living and support him/herself while maintaining and developing his/her art form [12].

At any rate, I will conclude by saying that although The Reality Argument can be viewed from different perspectives, I believe that virtually every creative artist needs to confront The Reality Argument in one way or another to preserve his or her art and real Self and to eventually become a successful creative artist.


[1] See Elliot Benjamin's 2013 Integral World essays: The Artistic Theory of Psychology, Mental Disturbance Viewed from an Artistic Perspective, and The Creative Artist, Humanistic Education, and Mental Disturbance (; see also Elliot Benjamin's 2008 Journal of Humanistic Psychology article Art and Mental Disturbance (48(1), pp. 61-88) and his 2006 Integral World article Integral Psychology and an Artistic View of Mental Disturbance.

[2] See Otto Rank (1932), Art and Artist: Creative Urge and Personality Development. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

[3] See Ernest Schachtel (1959), Metamorphosis. New York: Basic Books; and Eric Fromm (1955), The Sane Society. New York: Rhiehart.

[4] See Frank Barron (1972), Artists in the Making. New York: Seminar Press

[5] 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; and Mark Runco & Ruth Richards (1997)(Editors), Eminent Creativity, Everyday Creativity, and Health. London: Ablex.

[6] See Frederick Flach (1988), Resilience. New York: Fawcett Columbine; and Jane Loevinger (1977). Ego Development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

[7] See Elliot Benjamin (1993). Numberama: Recreational Number Theory in the School System. Swanville, Maine: Natural Dimension Publications.

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

[9] See Barbara Marx Hubbard (2001), Emergence: The Shift from Ego to Essence. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Pub. Co.

[10] See and

[11] See Carter Phipps (2012), Evolutionaries: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potentials of Science's Greatest Idea. New York: Harper; Steve McIntosh (2012), Evolution's Purpose: An Integral Interpretation of the Scientific Story of Our Origins. New York: SelectBooks; and Frank Visser's 2012 Integral World essays: The Evolution Religion: Making Sense of Evolution, A Review of Carter Phipps' “Evolutionaries” (2012), and Platonic Evolution: Review of Steve McIntosh's Evolution's Purpose (2012) (

[12] See my recent essays that describe the day-to-day reality challenges of my struggling actor/creative artist son: Elliot Benjamin (2012), The Creative Artist, Eccentricity, and Mental Disturbance: Part 1: The Journal of a Struggling Actor—my Actor/Writer Son (; Elliot Benjamin (2013), The Creative Artist, Eccentricity, and Mental Disturbance: The Journal of a Struggling Actor for Three Months—my Actor/Writer Son ( and see Jeremy Benjamin's (2012/2013) struggling actor blog at

Comment Form is loading comments...