Inspiration: a functional approach to creative practice.

PhD thesis in Art, Design & Media, by Gil Dekel.


8. Methodology

My interest is in understanding the actual experiences of opening up to inspiration within my own personal practice of making art as well as my interpretations of experiences reported by others.

The initial approach I took was to go out to nature and observe external events that inspired me. I was like a walking-recorder of human experiences, trying to absorb external influences, write them down and communicate them. I favoured an approach of observing and comparing facts derived from how external things appear to be in the process of inspiration. Yet, examining external appearances did not explain how the external affected my inner emotions while being inspired to create art. My inner emotions felt so strongly and somehow ‘larger’ or more ‘expansive’ than experiencing reality in other instances, and I began to question in what way external influences could affect inner emotions.

Looking inwardly I gradually developed to a stage where I as a researcher became aware of the validity and depths of internal experiences that occur within me. I have shifted from the notion of logic and reason to that of intuition and self awareness, therefore I was looking to discover what kinds of research methods incorporate and value the participative presence of the researcher. I studied several research methods and undertook numerous art experiments before eventually coming round full circle as it were, discovering that what I had been doing, without the name for it, was the method of autoethnography, or self-exploration as research.

I found in the literature an increasing number of positive evaluations as well as criticism. The criticism suggested that such an approach can turn towards being non-relevant to the academic community as it may become self-indulgent and even narcissistic (Holt, 2003: 3) leading to ‘the problematic nature of self-as-the-only-data-source in autoethnography’ (Holt, 2003: 15).

Looking further I discovered a transpersonal approach to autoethnography that answers this criticism by evaluating the epistemological and ontological assumptions made about the nature of the self. For a transpersonal approach, the self is not merely a dead-end or a separated aspect of one individual, but rather the gateway to profound unitive experiences. The experiencer does not separate himself or herself from reality or society, but on the contrary the experiencer is having a ‘…realization of everything being connected’ (Hart, 2000: 34), by going beyond the usual identification with his or her biological and psychological self (Braud & Anderson, 1998: xxi).

I was excited by these references to visionary perception, and of the way such writers write easily of angels and the muse. It accorded with my own experiences, and offered the opportunity for my research to be more honest and congruent – and I hoped, more inspired.

Transpersonal Psychology aims to explore a fuller range of human experience than mainstream psychology, and to include the exceptionally positive and inspiring. Researchers in transpersonal psychology have developed a range of methods suitable for such experiences. The pioneering work of Braud and Anderson (1998) provides an important series of contrasts between conventional and expanded visions of science, based on the premise that an understanding comes not from the stance of being detached objective analytical, but from identifying with the observed participants (p. 10). Likewise, Hart (2000: 35) suggests the researcher move away from the so-called thinking observer, and into a connected, present and aware participant.

Braud and Anderson introduce valuable new methods such as integral inquiry, intuitive inquiry and organic research, yet I looked in vain for an approach to art practice that comes from artmaking itself – an art-practitioner approach, not a social-science approach. I was in search of a transpersonal autoethnography method that would come from inside the artmaking experience itself, and would not rely on what psychologists had said about inspiration in artmaking but on what artists say about inspiration in artmaking.

Hart’s (2000) paper on transpersonal psychology puts forward a method of inquiry in which inspiration is seen as an activity of knowing, achieved in a nonrational process (p. 31). This view sums up my approach of choosing the phenomenology research method from the perspective of autoethnography in relation to experiences of opening up to inspiration while making art. I drew from the autoethnography approach of dealing with human nature, by learning about the self and discovering experiences and knowledge that can be shared with others.

The autoethnography approach focuses on the researcher describing personal experiences and linking them to other experiences for analysis. I suggest taking this approach one step forward: not only do I describe my experiences and link them to others’, but I also step out of the personal observation of my experiences and construct the step-by-step process by which experiences came to happen. I do not merely describe the moment of the experience, but document the process that lead to such a moment: the actual stages of sensing, feeling and reflecting. I describe the way I feel and think, explaining what I actually do in order to be inspired. My contribution is in putting forward the details of how an event develops; the unfolding process of the creation of the experience – not just the external influences but also the internal within me, so that any one can learn and join.

My approach offers to take a global event – the nature of human experience in creative action – and turn it specific by detailing the steps of its developments, so that anyone can learn. Theory, in my case, comes later to support my argument and not to be structured upon.

Another development that I suggest evolves around the use of the first person in the text. In autoethnography studies the first person ‘I’ is used by the researcher to allow for reflexivity and includes the researcher’s own voice and opinions as part of the findings of the text (Holt, 2003: 2). This takes into account the importance of the researcher’s opinion and subjectivity in constructing findings, however the speaker’s ‘I’ in the text is separated from the ‘I’ that had the experience studied. In my research I use the first person ‘I’ not as a psychological observer but as the space in which the experience happens, the ‘container’ of the inspiration.