Awareness & The Artist – Prologue to Complexity

“The artist is always engaged in writing a detailed history of the future because he is the only person aware of the nature of the present….The artist is the man in any field, scientific or humanistic, who grasps the implications of his actions and of new knowledge in his own time.  He is the man of integral awareness.” (Understanding The Media, McLuhan, 1964)

Awareness is most sought after but least realized.

In McLuhan’s vernacular it is more than an intellectual acknowledgement where one casually says: “Well, yes, I understand that our global world is getting more complex and uncertain.  Now, what’s for dinner?” Awareness is not cognition.  Cognition is knowing or understanding something, but that’s the end of it.  It doesn’t change old habits or patterns.  It doesn’t change your paradigm.

Integral Awareness is “Ah ha!”   

In the 1980’s I used an internet service provider, CompuServe.  I would send email to a colleague in the legal department…chatty little messages, nothing of consequence.  My work habit, however, was to draft a paper, print a hard copy, and walk down a flight of stairs to hand it to him.  I never had the “ah ha!” moment: that I could have just as easily pasted it into an email! I never realized the implications of the technology.  There was no integral awareness.

Awareness causes you to change how you think and how you act.  Integral awareness causes you to think differently. It causes a paradigmatic shift without the pain of catastrophic failure. That’s the whole point of the McLuhan quote: “the artist gets it.” He has that “ah ha” moment before the rest of us.  He “grasps the implications of his actions and of new knowledge in his own time.”  I don’t know how he does this, but somehow it happens and he gets this insight without having his world crumble around him. That causes a huge challenge.


Awareness demands courage. To know and to not act is spiritual suicide. It is easy to act during a crisis; it is quite another thing to act before all hell breaks loose. To act before crisis challenges the status quo, the prevailing knowledge, the paradigm upon which colleagues have risen to prominence and affluence.

Awareness ain’t beanbag.


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