Art & Photography

I’ll Be Your Mirror

In new book Andy Warhol’s Brain Dr. Phillip Romero explores the thinking behind boundless creativity

What might we find out if we could put Andy Warhol on the couch? How might those sessions help us better understand our own creativity? The man Lou Reed dubbed Drella is beyond iconic, though his inner life and the drive that propelled him to infamy feel at times under-discussed. Step in psychiatrist Dr Phillip Romero, whose latest book deconstructs the creative brilliance of his peer and personal friend in order to map a path to elevation of the human spirit. Both homage to Warhol and his inspiring friendship with the author and a platform for Romero to further his thesis on ‘creative intelligence’, the book postulates that art practice is the antidote to the chronic stress triggers of the modern age.

It is also a hauntological return to a scheduled-but-never-conducted interview between Romero and Warhol, scheduled for the day after Andy’s untimely death. Andy Warhol’s Brain employs the artist’s life as a mirror, through which the author asks broad questions about what we value in society and aims to inspire the reader to reinvent themselves in response to the challenging times we live in. In a rare interview for PORT, the world-class New York shrink and friend of Warhol shines a light upon the various ways in which creativity can make us more adaptable and fluid – protecting us from our past traumas, and inspiring us to create a better present for a more secure future.

How does creative intelligence training work?

Basically, there is what I call the six R’s of creative intelligence training – remembering, reflecting, reframing, reimagining, reinventing, and then, reconnecting. At its core, creative intelligence training is really about remembering the negative experiences of your past – reflecting on how you felt as a six-year-old getting beaten up the bullies, or whatever, and comparing it to now; to the absolute present. Then comes reframing your identity into ‘I’m not a victim’ – and that really is an abstract concept, because your deeply ingrained memory says, I’m a victim, but your present mind will say, you know what? I am free, because I can create a new narrative. Then it’s all about responding differently to stressors, and reimagining who you want to be. And Andy was such a master at reimagining himself. If you look at the different chapters in his life and the development of his work, you see that he was constantly reinventing himself. It is one of the great talents and creative impulses that we have as a species. Finally, you re-connect with the world as your reinvented self, and then re-connect.

Is Warhol a great example of the way in which harnessing creative intelligence can change your life?

Absolutely. Andy demonstrates in an incredible way how one person can not only bring themselves out of poverty, racial discrimination – and all of the adversity he faced as a child – and literally create a new sense of self. He actually called this new selfhood ‘The Warhol’ very early on, and then manifested the identity. And that can be tremendously effective in the business world, the creative world, and in the social world. We all have a little bit of that in us, and the brain science is pretty much clear now that the creative ability to go back and forth internally is a mindfully based skill, and is a skill that can be learned. That’s what I train people to do. One of the first things I will ask a 50-year-old executive who comes in fresh from burnout with heart palpitations and marital trouble, is how often do you daydream? And the answer is usually: ‘I never have time to daydream. I’m a grinder. I grind all day. I grind in my sleep. I grind getting up. I don’t daydream. It’s a waste of time.’

How would you define daydreaming, and why is it important?

Creative daydreaming is so important, because it is the antidote to chronic stress. The brain functions in two different states. The executive function occurs in what’s called convergent thinking, where linear, rational efficiency and focus reside – thinking in order to execute fast. Then, when you stop doing that, when you do quote un-quote do nothing, your brain begins to shift over into a divergent state where the brain turns inward. It’s not looking outward any more, and it starts chattering with itself – all these different areas start to associate and swap information, memory, emotion, fantasy, and so on, and through this communication all these new ideas pop up. We know for a fact that much of human and technical evolution comes from people who were good daydreamers – Da Vinci, Einstein, Newton, Warhol … They are all are people who came up with an idea when they were daydreaming.

Do you think fostering creativity in childhood can act as an antidote to the division and difficulties of our era?

Yes. It does feel to me more than ever in this moment in time that our human species needs the creative intelligence imperative. We absolutely need to educate children and families the importance of creativity. Currently, it’s seen as an afterthought. There is this sense of being creative as something you do in your spare time. And that it is not really worthwhile. I wrote a book in 2010 called The Art Imperative, and it postulates that the human race needs to recruit shared creative intelligence if we’re going to survive. In Andy Warhol’s Brain I further this thesis on shared creative intelligence, and how everyone has an inborn creativity they can access. But you have to train your brain in order to get into the daydreaming state, and focus on retrieving new ideas. Your brain will produce all sorts of new associations, and the mind then needs to import those over into the executive brain in order to execute them, and Andy was a true master at that.

How did Warhol’s relationship with his mother shape him, in your opinion?

What is what is interesting about Andy and his mother, is that she lived with him until she died. So she was always present. In some ways, we know he had trouble in attachment and love, and ambivalence in his relationships. I mean, he was kind of known for emotional aloofness, but it was a defence mechanism against getting attached – it protected him emotionally. He was very careful about forming friendships, but once he had formed trust with someone, he was quite free. He was not the person he appears to be in the media.  One of the first times I met him in the 80s at a dinner, he said to me, ‘Oh, my friend Karen referred me to you, because of my stress. And I said, oh, okay, well, yeah, I’m an expert in that, and then he said, ‘I flunked out of psychoanalysis in the 50s. I think it’s too late for me. I used art to deal with my stress, and if I didn’t make art, I don’t know what I’d do.’ And I said, bravo, that’s the best way! He was a great listener. I felt that in every conversation I ever had with him. He was a great inspiration, and he was a great person to bounce ideas off of. We talked particularly about creativity and childhood. He was very interested in child development; I think because of his own childhood. His mother was an artist, and he was often sick, but deprived as they were socioeconomically, she created a very enriching creative environment, and we know now that one of the things that facilitates brain resilience to chronic adversity is nourishing creativity.

Do you think AI will ever be capable of fostering creative intelligence?

I think when it comes to artificial intelligence, it’s really still just a fancy computer program – it has no emotional or caring capacity, so it is not human creative intelligence that is produced. And I mean that one hundred per cent. It’s a robot, coming up with a zillion different variations, which we can use as a tool, but we need to edit and discard the junk. I think people are getting addicted to the idea of AI as some major transformational thing, and it certainly is in some senses. But, what we still have not done in the 10,000 years of human history is develop a social community where creativity and creative intelligence is the binding narrative we live in. And AI does not bring us any closer to doing that. Throughout history it’s just been religion, which is created – let’s all believe in this or that, and we’ll go to Heaven. But we’re now at a point where these belief systems are pretty much bankrupt and divisive. The idea of harnessing creative intelligence is, however, fact based, and evolutionary based, and it provides an opportunity to train our children to seek creatively, be grateful for their inborn creativity and then to share it together, and change the world.

Andy Warhol’s Brain: Creative Intelligence For Survival is out now.

Dr Phillip Romero is in conversation with John-Paul Pryor July 10 at The Warhol Kennedy Residence – find out more and book a space at the event here. Images are courtesy of The Warhol Kennedy Residence.