Inspiration, role it plays in re-enchantment of the Arts

Inspiration plays an important role in re- enchatment of the Arts.


In writing this post, I am using few presupposed and self evident truths about the current state of the Arts.

One, is the need for re-enchantment of the Art.

I have taken this term from Suzi Gablik’s book by the same name where she criticises some of the basic tenets of the Modernist movement that led directly to much of the confusion left by the Postmodernism. Part of this confusion left the artist without a philosophical background needed to establish a basis for relevant correspondences between the personal and the universal principles of creation. At the same time this lack of philosophical support opened a gap in communication between the artist and his audience.

Second, is the need for Inspiration as vital source of revitalization of the current confused condition of the Art. The extreme relativism of the late Post-modernism has left a scorched field where the traditional values of excellence have been replaced by purely personal, anecdotal and many times accidental views that left the Art without it’s Muse .

Inspiration according to full definition of Merriam- Webster dictionary is: “a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation “In other words, an inspired person is one who is touched by his Spirit. That sacred part of his being that communicated the feeling of the Devine.This kind of definition tends toward somewhat religious interpretation which I believe tend to distort the real meaning of Inspiration as a direct heart felt feeling that is totally natural to all of humankind and not only to artists.

I have many sources of Inspiration. 

Some come from my daily observations of life around me. Be it an interesting form of simple objects that can turn into a still-life drawing,like this Moroccan tea pot done with silverpoint technique.

Moroccan tea pot
silverpoint drawing of Moroccan tea pot


Someone’s face that draws me to paint a portrait,


Daniel the gardener
Daniel the devoted gardener


a corner of a street that becomes a cityscape,

city scape
Cityscape, Work in progress




landscape of rhythm
rhythmic landscape



Then of course there are the great masters of Art from all periods in Art history.
When I was still a student in the Avni Institute of Art in Tel Aviv, I did a small scale study of The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus by Peter Paul Rubens.

after rubens
after Rubens


In the beginning of my artistic development I was enchanted by the magic of Jan Vermeer’s intimate interiors with their delicate balance of composition and the luminosity of his colors.
Here is a composition that was influenced by the Vermeer’s Young Woman with a Water Pitcher

vermeer in middle east
Vermeer in Middle East


Another great influence on my development as an artist is a more contemporary American Andrew Wyeth who’s hunting and mystical connection with landscapes of rural Maine and Pennsylvania resonates strongly with my own view of Nature. Wyeth’s choice of the tempera medium which requires contemplation and slow visual meditation on the subject matter, invites from the viewer equally slow contemplative viewing. In today’s hasty world it is in itself a huge accomplishment.

church in ruins
Church in ruins


With time, my themes have varied and mutated according to context, time and places I have found myself.

At certain point I have found that many of my themes tend to converge into one recurring theme that has accompanied my creative work and that is the theme of the cafe.


I have found that besides a great opportunity to exercise my powers of observation, this theme of the cafe, allows me to combine all other themes in a very simple, elegant way where the spontaneous interaction of all the forms untie to create a unified and sometimes totally unexpected message.

The theme of the cafe is enough in itself and need no other justifications for painting it but as it happens, it has the power to combine a wide variety of objects and themes that seamlessly fuse into each other allowing the mundane everyday objects to interact and create a whole new possibilities for flowing in different artistic directions.

Let’s say, a couple sitting around a table, with a dog playing at their feet, with some messy still-life on the table, with cups of coffee and perhaps some food, in the background. I can paste any landscape or cityscape that doesn’t even have to be in the original composition. This way I can eliminate accidental architecture or replace any other object that feels more meaningful and more appropriate for the final purpose .

In this age of photoshop aid with the cut and paste ability, I can substitute any and all of the components to create a more meaningful and more interesting composition then the original conception.

All these themes and objects, appearing in the context of a cycle of creativity that is inspired by a wheel of The Five Elements taken from the Chinese Wu Xing theory.
On this wheel of creativity taken from the Chinese philosophy of Dao i will write later in a different post


Marshall McLuhan and the paradigm shift in Art

the ladder

Once in a while I tend to experiment with digital medium.

I find it especially useful on the go for some quick visual notations that keep me alert for the beauty of the ordinary forms that surround us.

I mean, it is not always very practical to pull out your watercolor gear when waiting for a bus or in line in post office. True, I could pull out my sketchbook which is always ready in my bag pack and do some quick pencil sketches but I find that the wide range of options allowed by the digital applications that can be used with any smartphone today is truly exiting and besides, is a great fun.

Interestingly enough, the advent of the touch screens and the use of the fingers to smear directly on the painting surface has brought back that wonderful feeling from childhood when we were allowed to smear our paint with abandon without worrying about results. At least for those of us who were lucky enough to be allowed or even encouraged by the adults in charge which many times was exactly the opposite.

Of course, there is a big difference in the tactile feel when smearing real paint onto a paper or a canvass but there are definite advantages in messing around with digital paint and still keeping our hands and clothes clean.
As far as I am aware, the artificial controversy around the digital versus real painting is almost over but frankly I do not follow it very closely. I believe this debate is somewhat misplaced in that it is a superficial dichotomy between the “real” and the virtual.

Personally, I rely on the Buddhist world view that makes no distinction between the two and view all reality as a virtual construct flowing from the projections of Mind.

I know that some of my colleague artists, of my generation, still have a great disdain towards anything that is digital and virtual.

Anything that requires a different look at the very concept of what is art, how it is made and what is the role of art in the new digital age which is upon us, makes them feel uncomfortable and defensive about the traditional ways of making art.

There is nothing wrong of course in the traditional, classical mediums of expressions but it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the implications of the fact that our cultural context has moved into an era where the medium has become the message with all it’s implications.

The medium is the message.

It is not my intent here in this short post to go into lengthly explanations of this term coined by Marshall McLuhan but I do think that it is worth exploring his ideas about the role of the

artist in the new digital culture we all live in.

In Robert K. Logan’s book on Marshall McLuhan’s immense contribution to our understanding of our day digital culture, there is a chapter about the way McLuhan saw the role of the artist in our society.Here is a quote from that book:

Whereas the ordinary person seeks security by numbing his perceptions against the impact of new experience, the artist delights in this novelty and instinctively creates situations that both reveal it and compensate for it.

The artist studies the distortion of sensory life produced by the new environmental programming and tends to create artistic situations that correct the sensory bias and derangement brought about by the new form.

In social terms the artist can be regarded as a navigator who gives adequate compass bearings in spite of magnetic deflection of the needle by the changing play of forces.

So understood, the artist is not a peddler of ideas or lofty experiences. He is rather the indispensable aid to action and reflection alike.”

My interpretation of this statement is that most serious artists in all times have always took advantage of the changing environment with introduction of new technology.
I am sure there were many artists who didn’t embrace the new medium of oil painting at the time and in fact there was a transitional period between medieval tempera technique into the new medium of oil painting.

I can personally envision a time in not too distant future where artists will be using three dimensional screens like the ones in Steven Spielberg’s film, “ Minority Report “ where Tom Cruise is shifting trough vast amount of data moving three dimensional screens with hand gestures.

Tome Cruise in Minority Report
Tome Cruise in Minority Report


As much of the science fiction anticipates future scientific developments so is the technology that was used in this film is apparently is already available and in use in some specific industries.

Imagine an artist in his studio standing in front of these kind of virtual canvasses using unlimited virtual color pallets based on frequencies of light instead of muddy pigments with creating shimmering images of beauty that radiate light from inside adjusting themselves to the different light conditions, independent of outside light source.
I know that many artists will understandably argue here that nothing can replace the “real” feel of “ real” paint as it is mixed on the palette and applied with “ real” brushes.
I believe this argument is based on lack of information and imagination as to the ability of the technology to supplement the touch and feel of our tactile senses.
Again, this technology is already here in early development stages but as we already know, the pace of advancement of this kind of research is usually surpasses the ability of most people to comprehend the incredible speed with which the results of the research roll out of the lab into the everyday use. Remember the shock of unveiling of the iPhone touch screen by Steve Jobs?

To counter this shock and disorientation caused by the new technologies is precisely where the McLuhan’s teachings can be very helpful for the artists in transition to creating in the Global Village. Given the fact that most of McLuhan;s concepts are presented in a non linear jazz like fashion it is not an easy task to decipher the meaning from his revolutionary ideas some of which quite prophetic in anticipating the age where most people on Earth will be connected everywhere, all the time.

The many implications resulting from such a condition can be quite disturbing for many artists that are still cling to by now obsolete world view in which making art is still tied up with clear distinction between the figure and the ground.

Since we live now in the age of total connectivity and instant communication, this kind of separation and clear cut division is obviously not possible anymore and there is a great advantage for artists that can make this shift in consciousness to include both figure and ground in the context of making art that is more then just repetition of the past ideas and visions.

To quote McLuhan once more :

Art at it’s most significant is a Distant Early Warning System that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it. (McLuhan 1969)

The serious artist is the only person able to encounter technology with impunity, just because he is an expert aware of the changes in sense perception. (mcLuhan 1964,33)”

Looking from a bird’s eye view over the procession of many art forms of the past, it is obvious that Art is tied up with the culture and the norms of the time creating the different mannerisms which we later call the history of art. At the same time we can see just how non linear this progression is.

The cave art of Altamira is not that different in style and eloquence of expression from that of Matisse in spite of being separated in time by some eighteen thousand years .

This mean that our sense perceptions do not change so much in time in spite of a constant expansion of consciousness and this is what I believe that McLuhan has meant when describing the artist as an agent of and early warning system who’s understanding of the World is acquired trough sense perceptions that are at the same time are concepts no less reliable then that of a scientist or a philosopher.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I hope that traditional techniques of doing art will always persist along with the newer experimentations of digital and virtual art emphasizing the importance of inspiration and creativity over trite and banality.

In this age of great cynicism in the Arts with money replacing artistic value, it is important to articulate the new paradigms that would provide the basis for true appreciation of the Arts allowing artists to extract themselves from marginalization and exploitation by culture gone mad with greed.

Using GoPro camera to record myself sketching

sketching withflamencorhythm from josef on Vimeo.


I was one of the many disappointed geeks that were waiting for the Google Glass to appear on the market but apparently Google screwed up the whole concept and the criticism the product has received has killed the idea or so it seems. I still hope that in the future, some adjustment will be made to get this idea into reality, since I believe it is a product who’s time has come.
Meanwhile I have decided to use something that was really designed for extreme sports but I believe it has also a potential for being used as a tool for visual artists and teachers who want to show the process of their work.
I am talking about the GoPro camera that has conquered the world of the extreme sports and started to expand into other areas like performances of all kinds.
For some reason, it seems that the visual artists are a bit  slow to adopt the use of the latest technology for enhancement of their presentation.
Here is a video of myself sketching with a pen and ink in one of the many Budapest lovely cafes.
Thanks for watching and you are most welcome to leave a comment.

Puncturing a hole in the matrix

angels among us


Once in a while I find myself in a hospital.
A combination of bad genes, my natural laziness preventing me from exercising regularly , age, a pseudo bohemian lifestyle, all together and each separately, bring my bodily systems to such a condition that requires medical intervention.
Right now I am in Semmelweis University Hospital in Budapest awaiting gastroscopy.
I have few days to balance and prepare myself and meanwhile using the time to observe and sketch with pen and ink. It is my favourite technique for quick impression of a passing moment.It is also a very good exercise for the eye/hand coordination that captures a gesture concentrating on the essentials , leaving out the superfolous details.
Sometimes, this attitude of nonchalant quick doodling allows a glimpse into those fine extraordinary details that reveal some extraordinary connections between the outer form and it’s magical content.
Hospitals, are a meeting ground between heaven and hell, alternating frequently one with the other. Angels in form of nurses and doctors attending to suffering of the patients with different degrees of dedication, creating opportunities to puncture a hole in the matrix , revealing the tenderness of human fragility and at the same time the enduring the majestic beauty of it’s spirit.

Digital sketching versus traditional classical tools


digital sketch of man in a waiting room


Few years ago, the idea of digital sketching  would be preposterous for me .Trained as I was in the classical tradition, we were thought that there is nothing that can compare to the pure work of art based on the traditional tools.
In many respects it is still true. There is nothing like a good quality watercolours dissolving on a high grade water paper  applied with high quality watercolour brushes.
In fact it is one of the first lessons I teach in my classes. Use, high quality materials if you really want to feel the difference in the touch and feel when applying them in your work. There is a  healthy kind of fetishism in choosing the artists materials and it is no different when a musician prefers a Stradivarius  as opposed to a mediocre or low quality instrument.
And yet, as with many other ideas related to the use of the new paradigms of the new media and with a steady advancement of the technology allowing fuller and richer imitation of the real life sketching it has become increasingly  difficult to resist the many advantages.
First. There is the  ease of use.
Working with a digital pen with an iPad application such as ArtStudio or Brushes for example it is about all you need and if you feel like using your finger, you can skip the digital pen. iPad is about the size of an average sketchbook and with the new iPad Air it is about the same weight so carrying around is not more difficult then a regular sketchpad.

The Versatility.

artstudio dashboard


The painting and sketching digital apps, offering a great variety of built in digital tools. A huge variety of pens, pencils, brushes and even air brushes effects. All sorts of textures imitating hard the real life textures of the artists support materials.
When I carry around my real life sketching tools, I need a big bag to fit everything in.
Pencils, brushes, crayons, pastels, water colours, sketching pad , a small rag, a jar for water, a little bottle of water, etc. All this and more I need to fit into my bag as opposed to having just an iPad .
I am sorry if I am starting to sound like a salesperson of Apple but it is simply a matter of personal preference and of course any other digital tool that works for you is equally valid and good.
I am not suggesting of course in any way that all this endless assortment of digital art material is equal yet to the real life materials in touch and quality but I am sure it is just a question of time that the difference will not be noticeable at all and I am sure in the not too distant future there will be some added value to the digital feel of a material that will not be based on imitation the real life materials but rather add a unique feel of digital sense which is noticeable even today.
If you really want to loose  the sense of estrangement, and take advantage of the the many benefits of digital sketching, you must loose the habit of comparing it to the real life materials.


RGB color slider

Another huge benefit of digital sketching is the different application of colours.

An endless range of colours that are based on the principles of real optics  mixing as opposed to additive mixing of the artists paint materials. This in itself can be a great value in learning the difference between the dimensions of Tonal Value, the Hue and the Saturation.
It means that with digital sketching there is an added benefit in that it can teach you much about the difference of colours deriving from breaking up of the pure white light and colours deriving from pigments.
Trying to teach these principles of the difference between colours as light and colours as pigments prior to the appearance of the new digital technologies, was a real challenge.


Another big advantage in working digitally is the ability to construct an image in layers.
Working with semitransparent layers  we can create a very rich textures and blend colours in a unique way which is more appropriate to colours as light thinking. Of course, the more advanced the program we are working with, the richer and more complex art we can create. Programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Corel’s Painter using devices such as Wacom’s CintiQ can create an image that in many ways far surpassing the realism of the non digital painting.
Of course,  if we add to this the use of the photograph as resource that can be cut and pasted in layers we can get an image that is totally unique and cannot be replicated in a non digital way.
Realism is an elusive word. In the realm of Visual Arts it came to mean a photographic image, which has distorted completely the more subtle and more spiritual qualities of an image with the disastrous consequence of associating linear perspective as the only ” real” perspective.
At this point I would like to add that it is quite certain we are approaching a time when the difference between  the classical, supposedly real art and the virtual will disappear, opening much more options for creative work.

Here is a pen and ink sketch from today with people in a cafe working on their digital devices.

Checking the mail
Checking the mail

Alone but together, each with their choice of size of a screen, sending and receiving messages, working on their projects, sharing information across vast distances, creating together a web of interrelations with endless possibilities for creative thinking, problem solving and entertainment.
In my opinion it is easy to see that there is still quite a big difference between the classical tools and the digital and there are still quite a big gap between the two.


I could go on and talk endlessly about the many advantages of the digital media as a very useful addition to the artists arsenal of tools enhancing his ability to express his creativity but this is not the purpose of this post. At this time I am rather interested in enhancing the idea that there are many advantages for the classical artists to lose their inhibitions about the digital media and free their preconception about what is good art and what is the difference between virtual and non virtual reality.




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