We are blessed with a brain—a creativity machine—that is a master of survival. But creativity has a dark side, and its by-products can be self-destructive. We have been so successful in colonizing every corner of the planet that our waste products are contaminating its viability. We must address the toxic consequences of our success—our problems spring from our own self-sabotaging attitudes and behaviors. It is imperative that we become more mindfully aware of balancing our creative impulses with a sustainable environment.
One of the most creative minds of the 20th century was artist Andy Warhol. His personal experiences using art to help him overcome severe stress, from childhood illness to surviving an assassination attempt, exemplifies how creativity can support survival. My relationship with Warhol can best be described as a 10-year-long conversation that started in 1976—at the opening for his print series, Ladies and Gentlemen—up until Christmas 1986, when he agreed to do an interview for my book, The Art Imperative: The Secret Power of Art.
As I think about creativity, global burnout, and Global Mind, I do wonder what Warhol would say about the world today.
Of one thing I am sure: had he lived Warhol would be talking about global burnout. He was, as they say, “ahead of his time”: Warhol made computer-generated art before personal computers were the norm; his constant flow of gossip was an early form of personal branding and social media; and he even commissioned his own robot.
If his work is any indication, Warhol would have continued to be a nonstop source of creativity, unafraid to spotlight our world on the existential brink. He was already interested in issues that are so current: impermanence with his painting “Skulls”; 102 abstract canvases that provoke self-reflection with “Shadows”; and handgun violence with his “Guns.” Undoubtedly, he would have challenged us to look at our roles in the world—especially at our current pop cultural icons—and how we are responsible for the damage done as much as the mindful healing we can inspire.
Warhol observed, ““Human beings are born solitary, but everywhere they are in chains—daisy chains—of interactivity. Social actions are makeshift forms, often courageous, sometimes ridiculous, always strange. And in a way, every social action is a negotiation, a compromise between ‘his,’ ‘her,’ or ‘their’ wish and yours.”
Warhol is just one example of how reflection is at the core of creativity. We are all creative and therefore all possess the capacity for mindful reflection. But we need a more mindful creativity.
We have paid little attention to how our creative advances have caused worldwide conflict and destruction. Our internet is unregulated, hijacked by greed, and—like with tobacco usage in the 20th century—its toxic effects are minimized. We did not calculate the toxic effects of carbon fuel on our biosphere. The human burnout rate in overcrowded cities is soaring. We are not able to deliver food to starving nations. And our medicines are creating mutations that threaten pandemic disease.
Our creativity may have tapped into our self-sabotaging attitudes and behaviors, but it has also promoted greater mindfulness and community. We achieved abstract beauty in the cave paintings 40,000 years ago. We invented scientific objectivity at the dawn of civilization. We created agricultural and trade systems that can feed people in different parts of the world. We have transportation systems that make the world more of an accessible village. We built cities that support tens of millions of people. We discovered vaccinations that eradicate widespread disease. We have created a global emotional brain—the internet—that connects everyone with just a smartphone. Our innate compassion has evolved diverse global cultures.
Our mindful creativity has no limit and can be a force for positive change.
Creating changes within ourselves
Warhol’s words address this creative challenge for us all: “When people are ready to, they change. They never do it before then, and sometimes they die before they get around to it. You can’t make them change if they don’t want to, just like when they do want to, you can’t stop them.”
We must focus on our individual creative potential, which can only contribute to the collective whole. And, to take a page from Warhol’s book, today’s pop culture can empower collective evolution toward species tribalism by encouraging creativity, self-reflection, and collaboration on a shared “we” narrative.
Edited by Nisha Kulkarni [email protected]