Inspiration: a functional approach to creative practice.

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


9.2 Core themes (pt 1 of 2)

The core themes which I developed from my reflections on the actions that I undertook are captured by the chapters’ headings and their sub-themes, as follows:

Chapter 10: Stimulation (Sensing–Feeling–Acknowledging).
Chapter 11: Internalisation (Shape–Movement).
Chapter 12: Application (Place–Space).

I will explain how I reached each theme/sub-theme.

The initial approach that I took at the start of this research was to focus on connecting what seemed to me opposites between expressions through emotions and expressions through thought. I have attempted to link the two through a literature review of scientific theories. I have sensed these opposites while creating art myself as well as in the writing up of this PhD study. In my case, the artistic flow felt like a spontaneous burst of emotions decoding themselves into an artistic language of graphic designs, films and short-verse poetry. This occurred naturally and easily. The writing of a proposal, on the other hand, was a process of reading literature, reflecting, and structuring a linear narrative. The long process of thinking seemed to oppose the burst of emotions, and I assumed that thought governs the act of creativity.

I started to examine the way that thought and perception operate. Thought is largely seen as an act that operates on the basis of space and time, as Kant ([1787] 2000) argues. I was drawn to explore that area through the studies of Einstein as well as recent findings in Quantum Physics. My aim was to understand the artistic creative process, which I saw as operating under the faculty of human perception. I did not aim to make any arguments relating to the field of science.

I noted that the Theory of Relativity and studies in Quantum Physics argue for the surprising possibility of parallel realities that exist at the same place and the same time. These theories do not indicate a scientific ‘fixed’ truth about reality, but rather indicate possibilities of different realities existing together. From this I noted that the inner emotional reality and the outer intellectual reality can coincide, in what these theories suggest are simply two different modes of perceptions. This notion served as the basis for my article Symbols of feelings and extraction of knowledge which was my first article to be published during my research (Dekel, 2006).

The scientific theories that I explored challenged the ‘priority’ of thought over emotion.

I decided then to examine my inner emotions and visions. By externalising my inner visions into visible art works I was able to observe the way inner emotions operate and generate images. The first film that I created for that purpose, Quantum Words (2006; DVD icon representing that ‘a DVD disc of the film is enclosed with the [printed] thesis’.), visualises an inner vision I had using images of flares of light that seem to come from ‘inner realities’ and which pass through me and to the audience. The film’s images followed the images that I saw in my vision. The importance of this film is that it combined both the emotional inner vision and the articulated mind through which I was able to make sense of each image and symbol used in this film, which I later addressed and presented in the first three papers I gave in conferences.

With the making of this film I also noted the dual role of emotions in artmaking. Emotions, in my case, demonstrated a role in generating visions, or ideas, that made the content of the films, as well as a second role which I can only say contains a purpose to itself, regardless of the art work, and seems as if attached itself to the art work. This I noted following the visions that I had, which occupied my mind for a long time, but once externalised in the completed film, they brought with them a sense of satisfaction. It was as if the visions were now externalised and ‘satisfied’. Yet, I did not feel that satisfaction as my own, but rather as belonging to the visions and inner images. I felt an emotional identification, so to speak, with that satisfaction, as if one person identifies with another.

For the second film I decided to go further and to create a character that will ‘represent’ the inner world of emotions. The Prince of Hampshire (2006; DVD icon representing that ‘a DVD disc of the film is enclosed with the [printed] thesis’.) presents a character that lives in such an inner reality and which has arrived from that place to tell us about its existence. With these films I attempted to visualise my inner worlds, and to communicate the creative process to the audiences.

I started at this time to interview artists, and initially focused on poets. Poets are known to be the masters of language, which obviously highlights the use of words. Words are the tool by which the mind thinks. In that way I could examine my assertion that the intellect governs inner emotions. Poets can share insight on their inner emotions and images which are later translated through thought into words.

But the poets that I had begun to interview for this research proposed a different approach to my understanding of inner reality that exists along with an outer reality. All poets seemed to share an experience in which an unknown source was triggering inner emotions within them that inspire them to create poetry, yet the poets insisted that the process of creating poetry is not the co-existence but rather the combination of both worlds, the inner emotions and outer intellect. All poets suggested that their inner emotions are shaped by the intellect into coherent sentences that can be communicated to the audiences, as Sylvia Paskin (microphone icon Eye icon - Gil Dekel PHD icon representing appendix para. 9) explains:

‘…a poem can’t just be emotional. If it were just emotional there would be no boundaries to it; you would just have syrup… emotion has to be filtered in a way that it has structure and clarity. This is very important.’

The poets’ descriptions indicate a process of filtering emotions through the intellect. This suggested that emotions are not separated from logic, but rather an initial stage in the process of creativity, and which are later filtered by the intellect. This repeating evidence from the interviews has established the core theme of ‘feeling’ within chapter 10 – Stimulation.

I shall mark in blue each theme, as follows, so that the reader can see where and how each theme was situated in the final chapters:

Chapter 10: Stimulation (Sensing–Feeling–Acknowledging). Chapter 11: Internalisation (Shape–Movement). Chapter 12: Application (Place–Space).

At this stage I had established a crucial point, feelings, as the initial stage of the process of being inspired to create art. My films demonstrated my inner feelings and were inspired by inner visions that I had. The literature (literary critique and quantum physics) has discussed the important role of emotions in creating art, and my interviewees reaffirmed this. Yet, the interviewees also affirmed the importance of intellect and logic. I had yet to decide where to place intellect in relation to emotions, in my thesis chapters. The experience of presenting six papers in conferences and events during my first year of research has helped me to find the answer.

During my paper presentations I have noted that what governs an understanding from my audiences is the emotional input and the ability to express visionary ideas by the speaker. Feedback I received on my presentations suggested the importance of intensity of emotions that come alongside the intellectual theories that I presented. My presentations were based on a considerable literature review, which was presented to audiences together with my films and in what may be called intensified presentations. I noted the role of emotions in the presentations, where the presenter stands in front of what he or she says (not ‘behind what is said’ but rather ‘in front’ of what is said). This demonstrated, in my case, that the creative process is not a theory only but rather an applied part of my research. As one feedback from my presentation in Edinburgh University explained (personal communication, October 2006), ‘I would like to invite you to present in other places around the country, since there is a real need for a challenging and inspiring presentation such as yours’.

Feedback on my presentations taught me that in order to lead someone to understand inspiration they need to be inspired themselves. With this I have assumed that what governs the intellect is the emotion, while the intellect is the tool through which the emotional is expressed. I determined that the next core theme will be logic, which I called ‘acknowledging’, and which will come after the theme ‘feeling’:

Chapter 10: Stimulation (Sensing–FeelingAcknowledging). Chapter 11: Internalisation (Shape–Movement). Chapter 12: Application (Place–Space).

Under the theme ‘acknowledging’ I discuss the use of words and images to make sense of one’s feelings. However, I do not refer to this act as purely intellectual but rather as an act in which the artist simply acknowledges the inner feelings, registers them, but not intellectualises them for a purpose of trying to explain inner emotions through seemingly systematic intellectual theories. Systematic intellectual theories, such as Quantum Physics, have already demonstrated that this is impossible. More so, Anne Stevenson (microphone icon Eye icon - Gil Dekel PHD icon representing appendix para. 9) believes that psychological theories will find this difficult to explain, saying these experiences are such ‘that no analytical psychologist can explain’.

From my interviews as well as the literature review I concluded that feelings are an initial stage in the process of being inspired to create art, and are followed by a second stage of acknowledgment. I noted the power of emotions through my paper presentations, and dealt with my own inner experiences, trying to visualise them in my art.

That conclusion suggested that the creative process does not necessarily flow from thought but from emotion. Hence my interviews evolved from poets to visual artists focusing on the creative process of the imagery rather than of thought. The literature that I read evolved from literary and scientific critic, to psychological theories and literature on the experiences of artists, such as Blake, Yeats, Futurism, Mondrian, Kirchner, Kandinsky, Pollock, Beuys and Robert Morris. This shift was largely due to the good advice of my new supervisor. With this literature I noted that visual artists discuss not just their inner experiences but also the processes through which they are inspired to create.

The third film I made, Unfolding Hearts (2006; DVD icon representing that ‘a DVD disc of the film is enclosed with the [printed] thesis’.), was a first attempt to explore the process in which one opens up to inspiration. This film describes my experience of opening up to creativity, explained through short-verse poems that I wrote which assert the wisdom or skills that seem required to follow up this process: ‘Each moment I die and reborn. / Even the smallest atom has free will. / Look into the music of people’s hearts; we are all notes in God’s symphony. / We are ponds of emotions clothed in a body. / You cannot force a bud to open to a rose. / What if every leaf was afraid to fall?’

This film followed the process of internalisation of images, colours and shapes that happened in a process, not in a singular event. While Quantum Words (2006; DVD icon representing that ‘a DVD disc of the film is enclosed with the [printed] thesis’.) visualised images that I saw in my imagination in a specific inner event, Unfolding Hearts was created through a conscious process of looking at nature, taking photos of it, and then transforming the images into abstract shapes with intensified colours. For example, pictures of flowers I took in Portsmouth (fig. 7) and turned into emotionally intensified images in the final film (fig. 8).

Picture of flowers taken in Portsmouth, and later used for the film Unfolding Hearts (2006), as seen in figure 8. Image © Gil Dekel.

Figure 7: Picture of flowers taken in Portsmouth, and later used for the film Unfolding Hearts (2006), as seen in figure 8. Image © Gil Dekel.


Still image from the film Unfolding Hearts (2006), based on picture seen in figure 7. Image © Gil Dekel.

Figure 8: Still image from the film Unfolding Hearts (2006), based on picture seen in figure 7. Image © Gil Dekel.


Kandinsky’s theories on colours and abstract art were inspiring in the making of this film. Kandinsky focuses on the unique observation in which artists observe reality, and that this form of observation is manifested, or translated, into colours and shapes. At the same time the visual artists that I have interviewed were less interested in discussing the so-called spiritual experiences, or inner experiences, and more inclined toward discussing the ways in which they go about producing images and giving colours to their emotions. In an interview I conducted with painter and poet Paul Hartal (microphone icon Eye icon - Gil Dekel PHD icon representing appendix), Paul described the way in which the mind and the heart of the artist translate emotions into images, in more than a total of 9000 words for this interview (later edited and published as a 3000 words), demonstrating that the process of translation is most important to visual artists. Hartal (microphone icon Eye icon - Gil Dekel PHD icon representing appendix para. 5) explains that ‘each art form communicates meanings through its own specific set of symbols’, and in that way he emphasises the awareness that artists have on the different forms that different arts produce images and symbols.

With that I noted the importance of what I call artistic internalisation, where the artist translates his or her emotions into shapes and colours. The questions that I posed to my interviewees have evolved from asking about the nature of the inner reality, to asking about the techniques, use of paint, spaces, and the choices that the artists take.

The literature I read focused on the growing use of abstract shapes by artists, and my interviewees have seemed to support this. My visual artist interviewees can be divided to two groups – those who focus on representative art (Dekel, Hartal, Stevens and Chan) and those who focus on non-representative art and use abstract shapes (Varini, Johnson, Devine, and Dowlatshahi). I was surprised to realise that a close examination of the interviews of the ‘representative’ artists, has demonstrated that they also used shapes in an abstract way, even if the final result was representative that cannot be said to be abstract art. Dekel, for example, asserts that her initial vision is abstract, ‘an essence… a white outline, a symbol’, as she (microphone icon Eye icon - Gil Dekel PHD icon representing appendix para. 32) suggests, and when she paints she focuses on each part of the human face as an individual specific shape, that only later comprises the whole representative picture. Likewise, Chan explains that her inspiration from the shapes she sees in nature (‘perfection and their symmetry’ (microphone icon Eye icon - Gil Dekel PHD icon representing appendix para. 2)), draws from the abstract and changing form of the shapes, and not from their defined or fixed form. It is the impermanence of the shapes, the changing forms of flowers ‘which is very touching’ to her (microphone icon Eye icon - Gil Dekel PHD icon representing appendix para. 3).

With this conclusion I have established the core theme of ‘shape’ to represent abstract art, within chapter 11 – Internalisation:

Chapter 10: Stimulation (Sensing–FeelingAcknowledging). Chapter 11: Internalisation (Shape–Movement). Chapter 12: Application (Place–Space).