Dr. Gil Dekel

“This 20- minute lecture by Dr. Gil Dekel is worth a listen. The feeling at the end is, “How ‎awesome creativity is!” What is the artist really saying in each and every painting? Dr. ‎Dekel tells us.”

– Mary Gwyn Bowen, nurse and art educator.‎


How artists are inspired to create artworks?‎

What is inspiration? How it ‘comes’ into the artist and makes them want to ‎create artworks?‎

Now, many people will tell you that artists are inspired by the external ‎environment, by the historical events that they have been living through; ‎by their culture, the time, the place where they live, their society.‎

However, I have observed that artists have been creating art in any time ‎throughout history; artists have been creating art in ancient Greece and ‎they are creating in modern Britain. Artists have been creating art in ‎times of great prosperity and peace, but artists were also creating in ‎times of great famine and wars.‎

It seems that artists have been creating art throughout history, at any ‎time, in any place and in any culture. So these ‘external influences’ ‎‎(time, space, cultures) do not seem to me to inspire the artist to create; ‎they do not instigate creativity. They may influence the tools that you ‎would use in art, the techniques that you would use, and the events that ‎you would describe in your artwork, but they do not inspire artists to ‎create the artworks, because artists have been creating at any time, in any ‎space, in any situation…‎

I would like to show today through examples of works of art that artists ‎have been trying to tell us, they have been trying to ‘shout’ out loud and ‎say that inspiration is something unique. It’s beyond what we may think, ‎and through the history of art they have been developing artworks, that is ‎‎- paintings have been evolving in such a way that give us some clues ‎‎(through the artworks themselves)that tell us where inspiration is coming ‎from, how does it affect the artists and how we can all learn from it.‎

So how are artists inspired to create? What is inspiration?‎

To get an answer to this question we can draw back to the great Aristotle. ‎Aristotle suggested that there is an initial problem with the way that we ‎observe things. He would say that if you look at an object, for example a ‎bookshelf, what you would see is the surface. On the surface you would see ‎the colour. Now, the paint that you see on a surface does not tell you much ‎about the materiality of the shelf itself.‎

The paint, the surface, has its own essence, and the materiality of the ‎thing (the shelf) has another essence, a different essence. So if you look ‎at a shelf, what you see is only the surface, the colour, the paint, which ‎has nothing to do with the materiality of the object (the shelf).‎

Aristotle says: ‘there is a problem with the way that we see things; what ‎we see does not tell us about how it came to be.’‎

Aristotle was suggesting that we observe processes of nature, and learn how ‎things come to be, how things join, how things turn from one thing to ‎another.‎

That is Aristotle’s suggestion in the exploration of what is inspiration, ‎what is creativity, how things come to be… and he puts that task on ‎artists.‎

Aristotle was saying: ‘artists, you are good at looking and observing. Your ‎job is to go around nature and describe, to draw, to paint the processes in ‎which nature evolves. Teach us how nature evolves and develops through ‎making paintings of it.’‎

So, to go out to nature and draw what we see; draw the processes happening ‎in nature. And initially, modern artists were ‘answering’ this call; ‎indeed, they would paint and draw in a naturalistic, realistic manner. They ‎would paint what they see.‎

For example, the work ‘View of Delft’ by Vermeer, 1616. What you see here ‎is a realistic representation of reality, of nature, showing the city and a ‎river the way they look. The artist was trying to draw the river as he sees ‎it. The artist is trying to portray what he sees in nature because ‎Aristotle was telling: ‘Look at nature, try to understand the process and ‎just draw it’.‎

This is as if you had a camera and you took a photo.‎

So the first works of modern artists were realistic, as if they had a ‎camera; just trying to take a snapshot. And in doing so they tried to ‎convey or learn about the processes of inspiration and creativity within ‎nature.‎

Now, Aristotle’s suggestion was useful, however he suggested looking at the ‎creative process within nature, and not within art itself… He was telling ‎artists: ‘you should observe nature.’ Aristotle didn’t really ‘care’ about ‎the artists themselves, so to speak, rather he was just suggesting ‎employing them as ‘tools’ of exploration.‎

William Blake, the English Romantic poet, brought about more insight into ‎this quest for inspiration. William Blake, like Aristotle, was indeed ‎admiring nature. He was saying that the best place to create art is in ‎nature; so being in nature would be the best place to create art. ‎

Like Aristotle, he suggested that there is indeed a problem with the way ‎that we perceive reality; there is a problem with perception.‎

Blake was saying that we do not perceive with the human eye. Unlike ‎Aristotle he suggests that perception is not bound to organs.‎

So, Aristotle was telling us: ‘look at nature, and tell me how the creative ‎process operates there.’‎

Inspiration and creativity in art - video and text - by dr. gil dekel

William Blake said: ‘Yes, I love nature, but as an artist, my process of ‎inspiration and creativity is not bound to perception only. I cannot just ‎look at nature. I can be in nature. Nature is the best place for me to ‎create – but perception is not bound by organs, it is something that comes ‎from within, something beyond the human eye.’‎

William Blake was suggesting that we should try to look inside to see where ‎creativity and inspiration are ‘coming’ to the artist. And indeed, we see ‎that there is a change in the works of art created.‎

For example, the work by El Greco, ‘The Opening of the Fifth Seal’, 1608–‎‎1614. This work is one of the first attempts to deconstruct or abstract ‎nature.‎

When I say ‘abstraction’ I mean a process of painting the ingredients and ‎processes of ‘coming about’ instead of painting a realistic painting. If ‎you look closely you see that the lines are very much vibrant in this ‎painting. ; So El Greco was trying to break the shapes that he sees in ‎reality, as if he was ‘saying’ through this work: ‘Yes, I admire nature; ‎indeed we need to learn from nature; but look, the nature that I depict ‎here, the sky, the cloth, the earth, are portrayed with my vibrant brush ‎strokes.’‎

Vibrant brush strokes suggest that he wants to express himself. What is ‎this ‘deconstruction’ about? It’s about the artist who draws. It’s not ‎about what he depicts any more; it’s not about what he shows, but about the ‎technique that he’s employing when he paints, and the technique is his own ‎personality.‎

In this work El Greco is trying to tell us that there is a balance. There ‎is a balance between nature (the external world) as a thing that inspires ‎the process of creativity; ‘but I’m going to depict it’, El Greco tells us, ‎‎’in an abstract way, in my own way, in the way that I see it as an artist.’‎

As William Blake said, the process of creativity and inspiration is ‎something that comes from within the artist. So here we do have a balance ‎between the external world (we see nature) and the internal emotional world ‎‎(nature is abstracted, and looks like the artist’s inner emotion).‎

Why is it so important to abstract nature in art at all? I think that ‎abstraction is the way in which we observe reality through the artwork, and ‎not through nature.‎

Taking a further example, William Turner, in his amazing work from 1844, ‎‎‘Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway’, 1844. This ‎impressionist work is on the verge of the expressionism style. For the ‎purpose of this article I will discuss the work’s elements of abstractions.‎

This work represents the next step in abstraction in the history of art, ‎where artists are trying to ‘tell’ us: ‘it is something that comes from ‎within, not from without.’ ‎

How artists are saying this? By abstraction of artworks…‎

If you look closely at this work, the first thing you will see are the ‎brush strokes, the way that the artist laid his paint on the canvass. You ‎will notice that even before you may notice the subject drawn (train, ‎bridge). The work is very much abstract; you may not ‘understand’ what is ‎painted. The first thing you see is the personality of the artist; it is ‎the artist ‘talking’ to us. Only when you look closely, you will see that ‎there is a train here, there’s a bridge here. But, looking at this work, ‎the first thing that you see is the artists’ quality and message talking to ‎us. Only when you look closely you will see that nature is depicted in this ‎work.‎

If we compare this abstract work to Vermeer’s realistic world, we can ‎consider what grabs our attention. With Vermeer, we note houses and a ‎river. Only when you look closely you will see the quality of the brush ‎strokes created by the Master Vermeer; his own unique artistic ‘signature’. ‎

But looking at modern abstract example, such as Turner’s work, we see the ‎exact opposite, i.e. the first thing we see is usually the brush stroke; we ‎see a lot of colours, shapes, compositions. We don’t know what he’s trying ‎to tell us… He conveys his signature, his personality, and we see it at ‎first glance, through the way that he painted. Only at a closer look that ‎we see and recognise that there is a subject matter – nature, train, ‎bridge, depicted.‎

In this way artists, like Turner, are trying ‘tell’ us that creativity is ‎something drawn from within, from within the art and the artist, and not ‎from the external world.‎

The next example is in the style of ‘deconstruction’. Piet Mondrian, ‘Grey ‎Tree’, 1912. What we see here, again, is nature – a tree. So indeed, the ‎artist admires nature enough to make it the main subject of his work. But ‎he takes the shapes and image of tree that he sees in nature, and he is ‎trying to break them down in order to distil a minimalist minimum shape, ‎colour and line.‎

Why does he do it?‎

I would argue that Mondrian was saying: ‘indeed I admire nature; I love ‎nature; and nature inspires me to see beauty. However, the mere act of ‎seeing beauty in nature is beautiful in itself.’ ‎

It seems to me that Mondrian did not try to depict the beauty within ‎nature, but the ability of the human mind to see beautiful things… And to ‎do so, he starts to abstract nature to its minimal ‘ingredients’, because ‎through abstraction Mondrian gives us the elements that make image, the ‎ingredients that the brain then take and ‘compose’ into beauty’. Mondrian’s ‎abstraction is his own signature as an artist. This is his ‘tool’ to ‎educate and convey messages of self-awareness.‎

The power of being aware of lines and shape is immense. After all, lines ‎have always existed; and shapes always existed. A triangle is not something ‎that we invented yesterday… A circle has always been there, even before ‎any artist ever lived… And so it is not the shapes that we are coming to ‎‎’sell’ in art works (because shapes always been there and they ‘belong’ to ‎everyone), but rather art is trying to ‘sell’ the unique way that the ‎specific artist is using the shapes in his/her art.‎

A triangle, for example, is something which is international, so to speak. ‎Everyone ‘own’ the concept of a triangle… But it’s the way that this ‎artist is using a triangle, and using the shapes, colours, compositions, ‎which make his/her own signature.‎

The artist Sol Lewitt was saying that if you draw a portrait of a person, ‎then the portrait is not the real thing – it is a portrait, but not the ‎real person it depicts. However, if you draw a line on a canvas, then the ‎painting is the real line. It is real. A painting of a line is the ‎intrinsic reality of the line, that’s where the line lives… So, arts in ‎that way represent the true reality of things, when art depicts shapes and ‎forms, simple shapes and forms.‎

Mondrian was saying: ‘I’m going to deconstruct nature into minimal shapes, ‎lines and colours. I’m going to compose it in a new way, my way. That is my ‎contribution. That is how I’m portraying the act of deconstruction as an ‎act of creativity, the process of creativity.’‎

And so we started with looking at Aristotle who was suggesting to observe ‎reality in order to understand how inspiration and creativity operate in ‎nature, and then paint exactly what we see.‎

Modern artists ‘obeyed’ Aristotle with realistic, naturalistic artworks. ‎Then gradually there was a progress where artists were saying: ‘Fine, yes, ‎there is nature; nature is great in influencing us, but there’s also the ‎inner emotion state within us, as artists, and creativity is something ‎coming from within.’‎

Artists started to abstract reality, and to make art vibrant and ‎individually emotional.‎

And they continued… the first thing you will see in the next phase of art ‎works is only the inward; only the colours, shapes, deconstruction, ‎emotion, and the brush strokes that represent the inner world, as seen with ‎Turner’s.‎

Only as you look carefully you will see representation of nature. Artists ‎are telling us that creativity is within, something drawn from inside.‎

And we progress further to artists who are telling us that it is not just ‎about the inward, but it is also the act of deconstruction – so, it is an ‎intellectual and emotional active act in which artists look at nature and ‎break it to its ingredients. In that way, artists ‘declare’ that they are ‎not just inspired emotionally or intellectually but that they are actively ‎doing something. They engage, observe, decode, and de-construct.‎

The next step taking this idea further comes in contemporary modern art. In ‎a photograph of Jackson Pollock at work, we see that Jackson is holding a ‎stick that he used as the brush. This is the stick that you would get with ‎the tin of paint that you buy in the shop. It is a stick that you would use ‎to mix the paint. So, Pollock was probably buying paint tins, then mixed ‎the paint with the stick, and then he uses the same stick as a brush (to ‎splash the pain unto the canvas).‎

Instead of throwing the stick, he uses the stick – the same stick that he ‎used to prepare the paint with – to create the painting. The paint is ‎dripping from the stick and on the canvas.‎

What I can understand from this process is that Pollock was telling us, ‎that even the process of preparing art (like using the stick to mix the ‎paint) is now becoming part of the art itself. This idea fits well with the ‎notion that life itself is part of the creative process of artists.‎

Of course, if you were to tell Pollock what I propose here, he would ‎probably say: ‘this idea has nothing to do with me… I just used the stick ‎because it was easy to use it to splash paint, and it saved money on ‎brushes’…‎

Yet, when we look retrospectively through the history of art, we can see ‎reasoning and make connections. We can make these suggestions, because we ‎ask artists: ‘what is inspiration, how does it come to you?’ I have ‎interviewed many artists, and they reflect on inner-emotions, and seeing ‎the process of making art (not just the final work) as part of the creative ‎process.‎

Indeed, we have two interesting contemporary living artists, the duo ‎Gilbert and George, who declared: ‘we are the art and the artists.’‎

The artists argue that they are part of the artwork, that creativity is ‎something from within; as we live, so do we create… Gilbert and George ‎created an interesting work called ‘The Living Sculptures’. They painted ‎themselves with shiny metallic paint so they looked like sculptures. And ‎then they just stood in a gallery and started to sing. Now, some people may ‎argue that visually, that work is not interesting. Yet, the idea is that ‎the artists declared themselves to be living sculptures. So, firstly they ‎are ‘sculptures’ and then the sculptures are ‘living’ and singing. ‎

They don’t say: ‘we are now going to portray ourselves as the artwork.’ ‎They do not say: ‘we are going pretend being human-sculptures,’ rather they ‎say: ‘we are sculptures.’ So, the first thing of being an artist is being ‎his/her art – in this case, being sculptures. Gilbert and George are sculptures. Artists are moving away from being humans-that-create-art, and ‎into being the-art-work.‎

Artists are constantly trying to push the limit, and say: ‘it’s within ‎us… Yes, external reality is there; and yes, we are influenced by nature ‎and the world; but inspiration is something that is within, and it ‎instigates creativity.’‎

In the many interviews with artists I was asking them: ‘what is ‎inspiration?’ And they keep telling me that they feel being instrumented by ‎something larger than themselves. They feel being just a part, a process; ‎being told or ‘dictated’ to create the art.‎

We have an example of this in the work of contemporary Natalie Dekel. The ‎artist was saying that she was so inspired to create that it felt ‎physically as if her hand being guided to put the brush strokes in certain ‎areas. The sense is that she feels been guided, being ‘told’ where to put ‎the brush on the card, and what shapes to create.‎

At this point we see that inspiration is not just a creative force from ‎within; but rather something which is ‘dictated’ to artists; something that ‎is told or conveyed to the artist. In that respect, artists are servants, ‎being ‘told’ to create, by some force or artistic-intelligence.‎

William Blake was describing this artistic-intelligence with the word ‎‎‘angel’. Blake argued that he ‘sees’ angels day and night. And this is ‎probably why Blake was not very popular in his times, and seen crazy. But ‎he had the courage to preserve and say: ‘I am guided by angels day and ‎night.’‎

The great psychiatrist, Carl Jung, was taking this idea further. Jung was ‎talking about ‘the knowledge beyond’. When I did a PhD and people were ‎scared of the word ‘God’ or the word ‘inspiration’, I would then talk about ‎‎’the knowledge beyond’…‎

Carl Jung was experimenting with deep meditations, and going within to find ‎his own inner-self. And what Carl Jung happened to see is a visualization ‎of his own thoughts. Jung was visualizing himself in the form of a spirit ‎guide which he called Philemon.‎

Philemon, the visualization of Carl Jung’s self, was telling Jung that ‎Jung’s own thoughts are not really his. Philemon was telling Jung: ‎

‎’Your thoughts are not yours.’‎

But what did Philemon meant? We all hear our own thoughts inside our mind. ‎And we hear them in our own voice. But Philemon insisted: ‘no, your ‎thoughts are not yours.’‎

Rudolph Steiner, founder of Anthroposophy, was taking this idea even ‎further. He said: ‘not just that thoughts are not yours, but thoughts are ‎other beings speaking to you.’‎

To me, this seems a great idea. If my thoughts are not mine, rather they ‎are other beings speaking to me then I can learn to get rid of thoughts, if ‎I have too many thoughts running in my head. They are just messages coming ‎to us…‎

I mentioned this idea to my friend and he couldn’t accept it. He couldn’t ‎accept the fact that his own thoughts are not his. I guess that we are so ‎locked-up in the idea of ‘I have thoughts and thoughts are created ‎

By me in my mind’ that we cannot think otherwise…‎

But this is not new knowledge. Rather it seems we’ve known it for centuries ‎now. If you look at the work of Imannuel Kant, the German philosopher, you ‎will find that as early as the 18th century, he discussed how people are ‎locked in set perspectives. Immanual Kant was naming it ‘a-priori’.‎

Kant was saying that a-priori are notions (categories) by which our mind ‎operates – notions, categories, which we cannot go beyond. And he defined ‎these notions as time and space. Kant was saying: ‘the mind can think only ‎within the boundaries of time and space. These two are the only way that ‎the human mind can think.’‎

Indeed, it seems we cannot think otherwise. Still, we do know that there is ‎reality beyond time and beyond space. But when we try to think about it, we ‎cannot imagine it… Can you think of something which is not bound to time? ‎Anything that I will think of is bound to time or bound to space, so much ‎so that we use these two words, time space, as one word ‘timespace’.‎

The human brain cannot comprehend, cannot understand things beyond it. ‎Contemporary scientific findings portrayed in quantum physics, tell us that ‎there are far more dimensions than we think, and there are far more ‎appearances than time and space. ‎

Quantum theories also suggest that the human brain actually affects matter.‎

So we started off with Aristotle who was saying: ‘when we look at matter, ‎we see the surface, the paint, the colour – and this is one thing, which ‎does not explain the material and how it came to exist’. Aristotle asked ‎artists to depict processes in nature.‎

We then go through the history of art, where artists are trying to ‎gradually deconstruct art, and by that convey their unique singular ‎signature through their use of shapes, colours and brush strokes. Artists ‎were saying that processes are something within.‎

We then hear from artists William Blake and the poet Yeats who tell us that ‎there is some insight, an inspirational-pulse through us, but not from us. ‎The pulse is coming through artists, but the source angels, spirits, the ‎gods.‎

And we conclude up with quantum theories that suggest that the human brain ‎has the power to affect and change those materials, which Aristotle then ‎tells us we don’t know what they’re made of…‎

Thank you very much.‎

© Dr. Gil Dekel.
Video 2012, embeded in this website 6 March 2015. Text uploaded 23 Aug 2015.