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.

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THE CREATIVE ARTIST, HUMANISTIC EDUCATION AND MENTAL DISTURBANCE

Elliot Benjamin

The experience of being immersed in a creative artistic process may have enormous therapeutic value for a person.

I can remember back to the very first essay I ever wrote for myself, in April of 1975: The Natural Dimension and Society [1]. At that time I had had quite a taste of the then fascinating to me religion of Scientology [2], and I had recently left behind a vivid mathematics teaching experience in a Black ghetto high school in Houston, Texas. I asked myself if natural learning is something that a child would want to experience if this child were totally free to choose it for him/herself. I concluded that the child would, but that the sad state of our educational institutions is what leads to lack of enthusiasm and motivation on the part of our students to pursue knowledge for their own pleasure. Four years later I found myself opening up my own educational facility, Natural Dimension Teaching Agency, in Oakland, California, where I offered mathematics tutoring, piano lessons, and counseling. For reasons related to my marriage at that time, I closed down my educational facility after six months and transferred it to Northampton, Massachusetts, where I idealistically attempted to form a community learning center and mental health center (cf. [1]). Although my idealistic venture in mental health was not successful, I believe that my initial efforts at establishing both a community learning center and mental health center in the 1970s may shed some light on the relationship between humanistic education and mental disturbance.

From my perspective, a focal point of humanistic education is the work of Carl Rogers, one of the key founders of humanistic psychology, through his work on student-centered education, allowing for student choice, freedom, and creativity, with the teacher serving as a facilitator and a guide to enhance students to make their own educational discoveries [3]. A commonly known exponent of humanistic education from the 1960s is A.S. Neill, through his popular book Summerhill [4]. The actual Summerhill school was perceived as the epitome of “free education” in the 1960s and 1970s; minimal rules and regulations, learning only for one's own interest and pleasure. There was a certain lack of intellectual offerings at Summerhill, but the philosophy was daring, original, and from my perspective—beautiful (cf. [4]). Other alternative schools and free learning centers were springing up all around us in the 1970s, and continue to this day. We certainly have witnessed a preponderance of humanistic education over the past half-century [5], and for three years I sent my son Jeremy to a small private free school in rural Maine that had a wonderful Summerhill type of philosophy [6]. However, as I wrote in my essay The Natural Dimension and Society (cf. [1]), all these schools are very small and cater only to the lucky select few who are able to go there. But the vast majority of humankind is still trapped in red-tape bureaucratic schools that are in some cases, in my opinion, little more than psychological jails. I concluded my essay by stating that we who are the innovative creative caring teachers must “infiltrate” the major school districts themselves and initiate changes “within” the system, in addition to outside of the system.

I see humanistic education, based on the psychological foundations of Carl Rogers, as the middle ground that in some cases may be able to facilitate the transformation of the mentally disturbed person into the successful creative artist, as I have described in my two previous Integral World articles: The Artistic Theory of Psychology and Mental Disturbance Viewed from an Artistic Perspective [7]. On a small scale, I experimented at my agency in the 1970s with offering various classes in a wide range of subjects to the general public for no credit or external reinforcement; only for the intrinsic joy of learning. A few of my mental health clients had taken some of my courses, including Nutrition and Health, Auto Mechanics, Silk-Screening, and Sign Language (cf. [1]). The results had been quite positive, and led me to believe that if mental health clients could spend a period of time primarily learning things of interest to them without any external pressures, then the therapeutic value that they would receive could be a significant factor in enabling them to make the transition from mental disturbance to the successful creative artist [8]. This therapeutic perspective that I am describing is in fact currently taking place with much success at The Living Museum [9] as I mentioned in my essay Mental Disturbance Viewed from an Artistic Perspective (cf. [7]).

Nathan Ehrlich, who sent me the information about The Living Museum that I referenced in my above article, is the documentary filmmaker about a talented and creative photographer with severe mental health challenges, which I also referenced in my above article. Nathan subsequently sent me his informal perspective about The Living Museum, that I think is quite relevant to what I am talking about in this essay, and is as follows:

Dr. Janos Marton, the co-founder and current acting director of The Living Museum speaks about our society's pervasive psycho-phobia, the overwhelmingly prejudiced attitude we have towards those deemed psychotic. I was chock-full of psycho-phobia myself before spending more time at The Living Museum and realizing that all of our psyches, mine included, are somewhere on the spectrum of psychosis where the difference between who winds up a patient and who doesn't can, in some cases be, an extremely thin and permeable veil, where the divide between who's in a mental hospital and who's not is simply a matter of timing and accidents. What's the line from “Psycho”? I think it's “We all go a little mad sometimes.” The motto for The Living Museum is turn your vulnerability into a weapon, which I interpret to mean, we are most effective as artists when we open up to our wounds and depressions and allow them to become the source, the prima-material as the alchemists phrased it, for our expressions.

If my assumption that inside a number of mentally disturbed persons lay a dormant creative artistic potential is correct (cf. [7]), then what is needed is some authentic stimulation to help unleash this potential. And I believe that the realness, openness, and joyfulness of intrinsically motivated education is something that is capable of helping someone discover his or her true nature and desires. However, it is very important to find teachers who are both creative artists in their own fields as well as being talented and sensitive humanistic educators, and I think that we began doing this quite effectively through the educational offerings at my community learning center in the 1970s (cf. [1]). Unfortunately I was not able to discover how successful my ideas in regard to humanistic education and mental disturbance could have been, due to our inability to obtain financial assistance in the form of a grant. I was not cut out to be a businessman, though I had to learn this the hard way, and therefore I will need to speculate on what I believe could happen under the right conditions in regard to humanistic education and mental disturbance.

I believe artistic people need to go through a journey of “finding themselves.” They must go through an experience where they come to terms with their real or deepest-level “Selves” [10] and learn what their desires, ambitions, and connections to life truly are. There is no easy way to stimulate the creative artistic potential in people who have become mentally disturbed for any number of reasons, but I believe that a necessary requirement for this to happen is space, lack of external pressures, and gentle encouragement. These conditions are all well provided for in a “Rogerian” teaching atmosphere (cf. [3]). I think that if we were to combine Carl Rogers' humanistic teaching and counseling philosophy with R. D. Laing's open space and freedom philosophy and Stanlislav Grof's Spiritual Emergence philosophy [11], we would get a wonderful educational environment to nurture the artistic potential in our mental health clients.

To give a more recent personal example, the past few years from time to time I have offered to facilitate support groups for creative artists in my Belfast, Maine community, and I am currently engaged in this activity once again. One of my groups met monthly for nine months, and it was gratifying to me to see how some of the artistically creative but frustrated people who attended my meetings became motivated to take steps to actualize their deepest artistic dreams in the concrete world. And in the description of my son Jeremy's continuous challenges, frustrations, disappointments, and successes in his venture to become a successful actor/creative artist, it is striking to me how much value Jeremy receives from the support system he has built up from his fellow struggling actors [12]. In today's day and age with our horribly deadening focus on economic “austerity” and our super-fast-paced immersion in technology-based relationships, the potential creative artist is poignantly vulnerable and in danger. I believe that humanistic education is needed now more than ever, as a vehicle to nourish and support the creative artistic potential inside many people who have mental disturbance tendencies, but who also have the potential to emerge as successful creative artists if they are given the support of fellow-creative artists in a supportive community of their peers.

The experience of being immersed in a creative artistic process may have enormous therapeutic value for a person. This can be clearly seen from the “free drawings” of Marion Milner in the 1950s, which offers a revealing and in-depth portrayal of examining her artistic and therapeutic personal process; this can also be seen from the self-reflective drawings of Elizabeth Layton [13]. Indeed, much of the beautiful and personal deepest artistic disclosures in poetry, painting, and other artistic mediums have had this very same therapeutic value to the creative artist [14]. There has been widespread interest in using the more common forms of art, music, and dance therapy in various hospital and mental health settings (see for example the description of The Living Museum (cf. [9])). To focus on a positive developing learning atmosphere where people are developing their creative talents and abilities is, in my opinion, a prime ingredient of fostering mental health for anyone, but in particular for people with creative artistic potential who have mental health challenges. And I am very interested in fostering authentic mental health for creative artists; i.e. being able to utilize one's creative abilities while being successful in the day-to-day world. This is why I have defined the “successful creative artist” to include both success in one's creative artistic endeavors as well as satisfactory life adjustment (cf. [7]), as I am approaching this domain from the perspective of both a creative artist and a “real” (cf. [7]) psychologist.

NOTES

[1] See the essay The Natural Dimension and Society will be included in my book The Creative Artist and Mental Disturbance, which I expect to be publicly available by the end of 2013.

[2] See Elliot Benjamin (2013), Modern Religions: An Experiential Analysis and Exposé. Swanville, Maine: Natural Dimension Publications (available at www.lulu.com); see also Elliot Benjamin (2007), Scientology in the 1970s from Various Perspectives in Time. Retrieved from www.rickross.com/reference/scientology/personal/personal10.html

[3] See Carl Rogers (1969), Freedom to Learn. Columbus, OH: Merill; and Carl Rogers (1961). On Becoming a Person. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

[4] See A. S. Neill (1993). Summerhill School: A New View of Childhood (edited by Albert Lamb). New York: St. Martin's Press. (Original work published 1968)

[5] See Eugene Taylor (1999), The Shadow Culture: Psychology and Spirituality in America. Washington DC: Counterpoint.

[6] The name of this school is Riley School, in Rockland, Maine.

[7] See Elliot Benjamin 2013 Integral World essays, The Artistic Theory of Psychology and Mental Disturbance Viewed from an Artistic Perspective. Retrieved from www.integralworld.net. See also Elliot Benjamin (2008), Art and Mental Disturbance. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 48(1), pp. 61-88.

[8] This is described in detail in my forthcoming book The Creative Artist and Mental Disturbance (see [1]); see also Frank Barron (1972), Artists in the Making. New York: Seminar Press, 1972.

[9] See: Nathan Erlich, "An art asylum within an asylum", www.columbiajournalist.org/www/6-an-art-asylum-within-an-asylum/story

[10] I use the term Self with a capital S to refer to the description of big self and higher self that is commonly found in Eastern philosophy. See for example the writings of Ken Wilber, in particular his book Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, 1995. Boston: Shambhala, for a description of the higher levels of consciousness that correspond to the notion of Self.

[11] See [5] for Rogers' book On Becoming a Person; Stanislav Grof & Christina Grof (1989)(Editors), Spiritual Emergency. Los Angeles: Tarcher; R. D. Laing (1967), The Politics of Experience. New York: Ballantine Books.

[12] See Elliot Benjamin (2012), The Creative Artist, Eccentricity, and Mental Disturbance: Part 1: The Journal of a Struggling Actor—my Actor/Writer Son. Retrieved from www.integralworld.net; Elliot Benjamin (2013), The Creative Artist, Eccentricity, Resilience, and Mental Disturbance: The Journal of a Struggling Actor for Three Months—my Actor/Writer Son. Retrieved from evolutionarylandscapes.net and see Jeremy Benjamin's (2012/2013) struggling actor blog at http://journalofastrugglingactor.wordpress.com/2012/05

[13] See Marion Milner (1957), On Not Being Able to Paint. New York: Tarcher; Barry Panter, Mary Lee Panter, Evelyn Virshup, & Bernard Virshup (1995)(Editors), Creativity and Madness: Psychological Studies of Art and Artists. Burbank, CA: Aimed Press.

[14] In addition to the books listed in [8] and [13], 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; Otto Rank (1932), Art and Artist: Creative Urge and Personality Development. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.




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