Inspiration: a functional approach to creative practice.

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


8.1.4 Art practice as a research method Development
In this PhD research I could have chosen to explore artworks that other artists had already created. I could have observed works, read the literature and had discussions with artists. Such research could indeed yield theoretical data relating to the processes of artistic inspiration. However, by choosing to create artworks as part of this research I am able to observe the stages by which creation takes place, as well as engage with audiences and observe the development of the PhD from one artefact to the next.

This process of self-reflection also allowed me to gain an understanding of how the making of my artworks could be used to trigger others to open up to their own creativity. Therefore, making art and exploring its development, was inherent to this research. This personal motivation meant that I was less interested to observe a so-called completed artefact in the museum, and am more drawn towards examining the way that inspiration is captured and how it transforms into art, as well as engaging with others to inspire them to open up to creativity. Dissemination
Art practice was used as a method in this research to disseminate knowledge. In my artistic films I incorporated some of my theoretical ideas, giving them artistic shapes and colours. This provided another form of representation in addition to paper publications and paper presentations. The films were screened as part of paper presentations, and in turn the presentations were themselves filmed and made into other films. In this way I have treated paper presentations as a source for art. For full description of the process of dissemination through making art refer to chapter 9. Art presentations
While I arrived for each presentation well prepared with a theoretical background, I treated the presentations as an ‘academic performance’ (see example paper presentation made into the video Interdisciplinary Mud; DVD icon representing that ‘a DVD disc of the film is enclosed with the [printed] thesis’.), where a coherent presentation is delivered, but not in the formal dry style of a person holding up a paper that covers half his face, and reading it aloud in front of the audience. I never read from a paper; I only referred to keywords. This allowed me to be free, where I was able to use body language, vocal tones, and have direct eye contact with the audience, in a way that recalls an actor on stage (Dekel, 2008, para 1). The result was that these presentations were described as ‘thought-provoking’ (Dr. Liz Stanley, by email) or alternatively, received critical or unfavourable responses from audiences, as in the case of a presentation in front of Computer Science postgraduate students (Portsmouth University, August 2006). Nevertheless, even in that latter case, two students approached me at the end of the presentation expressing much enthusiasm and interest, which, I assume, they were too shy or reluctant to express during the actual presentation. I noted that performing a paper is generally inspiring to audiences. Art as a trigger
Art practice can also be used as a tool to move people out of their comfort zone, which seems to limit people’s creativity, as I have experimented with by asking people in the street, ‘What is Love?’, for the making of a short film by that name (2007; DVD icon representing that ‘a DVD disc of the film is enclosed with the [printed] thesis’.). As a researcher I could use other techniques to obtain answers, such as questionnaires. However, being invited to sit in a classroom and answer a questionnaire has the danger of allowing people to maintain their comfort zones. By approaching people randomly in the street, holding a camera in my hands, people (who did not ignore me but actually stopped to respond) gave immediate, spontaneous answers. This will be discussed in chapter 12.1. Here I am merely interested in demonstrating that art practice in itself can be used as a research method for gathering data. Authenticity
I have been writing poetry from a very early age. Gradually the form of my poems developed into short-verse spontaneous poetry, usually up to two lines written in a single moment, without any editing. This form of writing can serve as a method for documenting inner experiences, through a concise and precise use of language. Since the text is not edited, it describes emotion in sincere, natural and non-discursive language, as W.B. Yeats (1966: 103) explains. Iqbal (1983: 155), referring to the short-verse spontaneous poetry of Rumi, adds that spontaneous un-edited writing can serve as a direct link to the artist’s feelings, meaning that we can trust the writing as an authentic carrier of experiences. Process in end-products
Art practice involves a few stages in the process of creating: idealisation, preparation, making, and feedback. Gilbert & George (2007, para. 5) state that their final design process on the computer is ‘always ten per cent of the actual piece’, meaning that ninety per cent of the process of creating art work is unseen or unknown to the viewer who sees the final piece. By making art, the researcher can follow these ‘unseen’ stages and become aware of processes that are usually ignored by others, and yet which constitute ninety per cent of the making, as Gilbert & George assert. Such a researcher can then have a better general grasp of the processes, and a greater respect for simple things. A chair, for example, may not be seen any more merely as a piece of metal and fabric made in a factory, but will be respected as the culmination of a long process – a process that may have begun with a thought, a sketch, a request for a business loan from the bank, and a design on a computer, and which culminates in setting up a factory line, buying materials, producing, contacting distributors, shipping off to stores and devising an advertisement agenda. Making art provides the researcher with a tool to observe the processes of making, to the extent that the chair on which the researcher sits to write his thesis will no longer be seen as ‘just a chair’. Processes of documentation
By experiencing processes of making art, the researcher can learn that there are long processes for making data representative, which otherwise may seem as a straightforward representation of events. The experience of making more than twenty films and videos for this research – from the initial stages of imagining and planning through to directing, filming and then editing – provided me with an outlook on other films that claim to show ‘authentic documented data’. It could be said that any director/editor who directs footage and then edits it, will gain an informed view of the editing choices that other editors made. Likewise, a photographer will have an informed understanding of the distorting effects that light and camera angles can have on proportions. This is valuable if a researcher wants to keep an open mind when reading text or watching films as part of his data collection process. By doing art, the researcher experiments with the fact that things follow processes of editing, thus the researcher can gain a better understanding of the duality in which observed data might be edited and presented inappropriately.