creating art

Last week we discussed studying art. But what is art? And what is this creative process that we hear about so often?

Human beings are all different from one another. The less we know about them, the more they might resemble one another (as in ‘all Negroes look alike’). But as we get to know human beings individually, we realize that everyone is different. We’ve already learned that each fingerprint is different… and the finger is a very simple digit. If each finger is different in this great world of ours, try to imagine how much each face is different. And if each face is different, try to imagine how much greater the difference between each mind. There are so many differences between one person and the next. The great rabbi and teacher, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, known throughout the Jewish world for his deep teachings, once said that he couldn’t teach more than ten people at the same time. This was because he projected himself and his thoughts to each of his students in a way that allowed them to understand him. Yet more than ten at a time was too much for him.


Because we’re all so different, even if we do something relatively simple, like smelling a rose, if we wish to share our personal experience with others… we will be describing a very unique experience. Even if we have experienced this a number of times… even twenty or more times, we know that each time we smelled a rose, it was a little different. Basically, each experience was different. Now if we are describing the experience to another person, that person will appreciate it differently from the way we actually lived the experience. And if we described it to two different people, each of those people will have experienced the vicarious pleasure of identifying with our experience in a slightly different way.


Now imagine that I am about to share the intimacy of falling in love for the first time. Think of the complexity of what I am about to describe, and then imagine how each person will listen or read my words and understand them a little differently. Think of twenty people. Then consider that a hundred different people will read that description… How amazing it is that I can share something so intimate and personal with one other human being… but to share it with a hundred… is that at all possible? Are all those people going to be really listening? Or are they going to be skimming across my words… maybe they’ll have other things on their minds… maybe they’ll be thinking that they have to pay their telephone bill, or put air in their bicycle tires at the same time? How will I reach them all.


Occasionally, someone will tell us a personal story from their life… and will fill it with so many little, inconsequential details, that we find it difficult to follow. We start thinking, when will he or she get to the point. We start guessing where he’s going with this. We lose patience. The objective of the artist is just the opposite. He or she wishes to take his listener by the hand, and enable him or her to experience on his own, something of the power of the artist’s personal experience. He would like to free his audience of all other distractions and thoughts. There is no particular trick to doing such a thing. But what he has to do, is to distill the very experience he had, and all the sensual and emotional reactions that accompanied his own experience, and discover the threads woven through the experience… those threads that are universal in character… and offer them to his audience as hints, by way of which the audience will choose to relive the experience of the artist.


A lot of explanations, exhortations, pleas for specific emotions, will weigh us down. Exclamations, screams, and tears might distract us from the subject at hand. No, all we want are hints. In leading us to the water, the artist doesn’t have to turn on the faucet, and push our heads under the steam. Enough just to let us know where it is. And in order to do that, he has to remove himself, a wee bit from the immediacy of the experience he is recounting. The work of the artist is first to find the essence of what he has to say, and understand it in the most universal way. And then to present that as light as a feather floating through the air.


While reading blogs, I have come across some very moving descriptions of personal experiences. Many times they touched my heart and soul. But often, the same subjects have been even more powerful when described by a poet, or a painter, or a novelist… sometimes despite the fact that the artists did not actually experience himself or herself, the same traumas or sublime exhilaration to the extent that someone else might have experienced them.

The work shown here as illustrations, are paintings of a student of mine, by the name of Dikla, after having heard stories of the abuse and harassment of children.


63 responses to “creating art

  1. Isn’t there a saying…a picture is worth a thousand words…and a very nice post…makes you think…
    Lovely paintings…good work Dikla 🙂

    • Yes, I’ve heard that saying, and it’s reinforced by a study of biology. The amount of brain cells dedicated to seeing is far greater than those for all the other senses. However, I believe that each of our senses open up infinite worlds, and so, that it’s a mistake to compare them. I can tell you personally, that I much prefer to read an article than watch some video clip on youtube. And that’s just because watching a video seems to incapacitate me for doing anything else… Thanks for your comment.

  2. I enjoye and loved them all, wonderful post again. Thank you dear Shimon, have a nice weekend, love, nia

  3. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    What a wonderful write up, Shimon.

    Firstly, loved all the art pieces – some of the hues, such pleasure to the senses. When you said you ‘teach art’, I have to say I have always wondered HOW do you teach art. I thought it just came to people, I did.

    Re everyone reading something a different way, through them selves – I get that fully. It is always interesting to me when people comment on what I’ve written, that they feel or see it, or how it impacted them. Yes, definitely we are all different.

    • You raise an interesting question, Noeleen. There are different opinions on the work of children. Some great artists and teachers believe that children are natural artists. But all are agreed that with the loss of innocence, and the arrival of self consciousness, the adult loses that ability. I believe the work of the child is unlike the work of an adult artist in any case. And I have witnessed students coming to the arts with very little talent, and still learning and acquiring the skills to express themselves very well. Thanks you for your comment.

  4. Your insight , as well as that of Dikla’s, is well worth paying attention too.

  5. This is a wonderful expression (light as a feather itself) of what art is or should be. Thank you! Shabbat Shalom.

  6. This artist did exactly as you suggested: find the essence, understand it in the most universal way and then present it “light as a feather.” Remarkably poignant images. ShimonZ, this post is a wonderful artist’s manifesto—thanks for creating and sharing it,

    • Yes, I am very pleased with Dikla’s work, and that’s why I chose to use her to illustrate the point. And it’s good to know that you enjoyed it winsomebella. Always good to hear from you.

  7. Rabbi Nachman’s words certainly ring true; my poor husband’s classrooms are so overcrowded he feels it’s almost impossible to reach all the students.

    I appreciate your views on art, Shimon, both its creation and appreciation, and Dikla’s sensitive paintings are exquisitely moving.

    • This is a very interesting and sensitive point. I myself have lectured to many more people, as have many of my colleagues. Were I to have limited participation in my classes according to numbers, many of the students would have protested. But all the same, there is a certain quality to small classes that can’t be denied. Very glad you enjoyed the post, Kitty, and Dikla’s fine work.

  8. Each person brings the filters of their experiences to the expression and appreciation of art, and my own filters can identify with this beautiful post, Shimon. Exactly the same as anyone else’s? No, but enough in common to be able to share a similar energy and vibration. Dikla’s work is exquisite.

    • So glad that you were able to identify and enjoy, Cathy. Working in this field does usually make us more sensitive, and it is fascinating to study the process of the transformation of thoughts to art. Thank you very much for your comment, Cathy.

  9. Can hardly bear looking at that pic with the child holding her doll ever so tight and the dreadful shadow …

    • I can understand your feelings, cat, when looking at this work. When I first saw the work on this series, I found it hard to speak, it was so powerful. Thanks for your comment.

  10. Hi Shimon! I’m so happy you have breached my request on creativity. Loved the paintings. I would be very proud to have such a student. I’m not sure that all those threads are universal in nature, but I’m willing to go with it. I found a statement online and have tried and tried to copy and paste it here but to no avail. Therefore, I will write it formally, just know it is not mine
    They mix with all classes of society
    and are therefore
    the most dangerous”

    Of course your blog is of major interest to me, but I still want some input as to what turns the light on, where does the spark of creativity come from? I fear I am too old to learn, but am still pushing the envelope with all my being.
    Sincere regards,

    • Thank you for the quote, Bob. I think it was quite true some time back. Now the classes intermingle in all fields, so I don’t know if it still holds. And you can be sure that I derive great pleasure from my students. They add much to my understanding and appreciation of life, and are a part of my own learning experience. And I appreciate your requests very much, my friend. You’re so right to insist on this question regarding the spark of creativity. I will try to address this mystery on my post at the end of this week. Always like to hear what you’re thinking. Thanks again.

  11. Good grief….those paintings make your point so well, they are utterly chilling and portray suffering very intensely. They certainly had a tremendous impact on me, I could hardly look at them. So the artist here got through to me completely! A very interesting post, you express things so well, I would love to have that talent, so yes… too are a great artist!xxxx

    • Yes, fine art can grab us by the heart at times. That is so amazing about it. I picked a provocative subject to use as an example, but I remember looking at a painting of a cow in a dark barn, and aching… it would be hard to describe what that painting did for me… And again, we are all more sensitive to this and that than our neighbors or friends might be to the same subjects. But when we find art that speaks to us, it goes to a great depth. Thank you Dina, for your kind words. You touch me. xxx

  12. What is art? Such a deceptively simple, yet profoundly thought-provoking, question! Now… where is that telephone bill?

  13. Wonderful post Shimon. Very thought provoking. And the paintings are just so right, they speak for themselves..

  14. A very moving and very perceptive piece of writing Shimon. I’m in the process of writing a talk for camera clubs on the subject of The Seeing Eye. I’m fast realizing how very difficult it is to describe a concept that is personal, unique and is our own view of the world around us.

    • Thank you very much Andy. I would be very interest to read your thoughts on the ‘seeing eye’. I hope you’ll share your thoughts with us on your blog. I think it would be a wonderful thing to take part in a camera club… the fun of examining possibilities with people of like mind… sounds great.

  15. Absolutely brilliant post. So beautifully expressed….better than I have experienced before! I love the paintings of Dikla….thank you so much Shimon:)x

    • Thank you so much, Janet. You know how much I value your opinion, and I will share your words with Dikla. The subject (art) is so deep and wide, we could go on and on… I feel I’m always learning more… xxx

  16. What we want to say or paint or show is always clear in our own minds. The art comes in, I think, when we somehow express at least a part of that to someone else. So often, words and paints just get in the way. 🙂

    • I have a feeling that maybe I’m missing something here, yearstricken. Usually, it would seem to me that the actual play with the words or the paints is part of the art. In certain cases, it seems that the artist has nothing to say, until he discovers his message wandering through his materials. I once had a girlfriend who would put a little puddle on the watercolor paper, and nudge it around a bit, letting it move at random… ultimately, an exquisite representational painting emerged. If anything gets in the way, it could be anxiety on the part of the artist… I would love to understand this better.

      • Maybe it’s just me. I often know exactly what I want to say or express, but when I put words to paper, they refuse to say what I want them to. I must rewrite, coax, threaten, and work some more for them to begin to reveal what it was I felt or saw in my mind’s eye and heart.

        • I don’t think it’s just you. On the contrary, it seems that many artists have to struggle with angels and devils, till they get the finished product that they’re satisfied with. I think I missed your point when you said, ‘the words and paints just get in the way’. But I agree that it’s not at all like getting in the car and driving to the mall. Sometimes everything just seems to fall into place. And other times it turns into a fierce battle. All the more so, because art doesn’t suffer ‘going through the motions’ or revisiting past successes. I must say that your lines flow so beautifully, that the reader is unaware of your struggles.

  17. You have written a great tribute to the paintings of your student Dikla! His work gave a flashback to the style of expressionism as often seen in the museums of the world. Maybe one of his works soon will be on a museum’s wall.

    • Thank you Frizz. Actually, this wasn’t at all a tribute to Dikla. I just used her paintings to illustrate the process of art. And I really doubt that museums will have much of a future in art. My guess is that the internet, may take away a lot of their importance.

  18. This was a very good post and lesson, Shimon. Sometimes in the writing it is easy to include to much, and then it becomes more of a distraction than an addition. It is something I still work at. I do find it fascinating how many people can look at a picture or read a poem and each one will relate to something different. To me, good writing does that, it connects to the one who is reading but does not force them into the writer’s point of view. The paintings you included were excellent, evoking powerful emotions, almost haunting. Nothing had to be said to know that great sorrow was present.

    • You are so right, Josie, in your view of good writing. Certainly, force has no place in communication between people. It is exactly the opposite, a sharing of light and understanding. Ultimately, art is a world of freedom. At its worse, it is sometimes a venue for self-destruction, but never for enslavement. We all cherish the freedom and the integrity of others. But it’s true, that too many colors, or too many words can sometimes muddy the waters, and lose the effect… that is part of learning art. Thanks for your comment.

  19. Dikla does an amazing job of communicating the horror, loneliness, and brokenness of abuse. She must have a very empathetic heart. Her use of stark colors helps to portray these emotions, and her “generalizations” of these situations allow viewers to relate without the subject being a specific instance.
    I’m looking forward to hearing you address the “spark of creativity”!

    • I can only agree with your appreciation of Dikla’s work as seen here. She is a very creative and imaginative artist, and I’ve always enjoyed her work. But I consider this the hardest test… to relate to hell on earth, and still maintain a humane and enlightened approach. And of course, her great sensitivity and empathy come through these paintings. Thank you so much for your comment, Ruth.

  20. I agree. As I’ve said on my other blog, for me art is about expressing feelings, everything else is in the eye of the beholder. That is why I prefer not to give descriptions of my posts on jmnartsy, other than the occasional background note, whether technical or otherwise. What I truly find disconcerting is the times I visit art galleries for a specific exhibition and they place reams of text alongside the images; for me that presumes I have no aesthetic sense nor understanding nor imagination nor experience to draw upon. Bah humbug!

    The images with this post are strong and express much; I like them. I am drawn to and particuarly relate to the red image. I too look forward to your take on the spark of creativity and why we do it. Shalom.

    • We can always ignore the information and the critiques that often accompany a work of art. The reason they are so common, is that often the audience that sees or hears a work of art is unaware of the context of that work. For instance, if I choose to listen to an Italian Opera, I would like to know what he or she is singing about, and what the point of the story is, and when it was composed, etc. In the plastic arts, there is a constant give and take between the artists working in the same time frame, and sometimes the same geographical area, and often there are references to artworks of the past, and to specific artists. The audience is able to appreciate the work better if it is aware of that context. The explanations in no way demean the audience. Thanks for your comment, Janina.

      • I find that providing context is unnecessary. What you get from an artwork depends on your own experiences and insights developed from those experiences; you don’t really need any art-appreciation classes or histories. IF you want to find out more after viewing, then you’ll do so. Recently, on an arts program on our national TV carrier, the host, an arts expert, also alluded to this trend of providing lots of explanations with artworks in exhibitions and commented that “if they needs lots of explanation, then something [in the artwork] is not working.” I agree.

  21. I enjoyed your words very much today, Shimon…expression and experience…life, psychology, art…wonderful insight. Thank you.

  22. Your posts so often strike a chord with me, Shimon. I love reading them. Dikla’s paintings are very powerful, and full of sadness.

    • Thank you very much, Richard. Yes, I picked these pictures to illustrate the subject because I think it’s very hard to describe or discuss such things. And she was able to venture into ‘no man’s land’ and survive, by virtue of the creative art process.

  23. I am finding it difficult to comment on this subject because the complexities are simply too much; even so, I wanted to share that this post had something to say to me about writing, about art, about perspective, about pain, and about so many other things that are layered in between those subjects. Thank you for another thought-provoking post, as always.

    • I very much appreciate your comment, N, and can well imagine how difficult it is to comment on the subject. But it was particularly because I had you in mind, and another woman whose blog I read, that I decided to choose these pictures as illustrations. One might think that art is primarily entertainment… and it is that, at times. Yet I have seen it as something far more noble too. A reckoning with man and god.

      • I think I have sometimes viewed art as the ability to say those things that words are unable to convey (such as the selections you chose to share). Yes, sometimes it is simply decoration, or adornment, or fanciful fun, but other times, it exists as something far more precious.

        One of the things I appreciate about your blog, and your point of view, is that you have an extremely deft hand at blending image with message, and in the process, you take care to also include a removed vision that is almost scientific in approach, but even so, every word carries the history of your faith and your dedication to learning. I can’t count the number of times your words have left me in awe, nodding my head in recognition.

        I appreciate art in many forms.

        The ability to take a person somewhere they haven’t been before.

        As a photographer and writer and student, your art is amazing.

  24. I don’t really have a lot I feel like I can add to this, but thank you so much for this post. I love it. It makes me which I was a lot better at art. I’m honestly terrible at it, but I like trying to make it.

    • What makes people good at art is a lot of practice, hard work and an open mind towards art that’s already here. If you like trying to make it, that is already a good start. Thank you very much for coming by and for your comment. I appreciate it.

  25. Great post. Interesting to think about how an artist tries to convey their experience. The comparison to Rabbi Nachman is also interesting. Do you think an artist can also be considered a teacher? Both are trying to convey the same thing, experience. How many people do you think an artist can reach and still allow understanding?

    • I believe that an artist and a teacher are working at two different occupations. An artist can be a teacher too, and a teacher can be an artists, but the two are not necessarily related. It’s like an opera singer and a DJ, though they are both involved in communication (and music). I think an artist can reach an infinite amount of people, because a really fine artist connects with something universal about what he is trying to say. That’s why we can enjoy the artists of other cultures, and of other times too. That is why people still line up to see the Mona Lisa. Thank you for your comment, BG.

  26. The pictures are very moving and sad.

    • Yes, they are sad, Katrina… but the fact that they have become vehicles for artistic expression adds still another taste… the sadness doesn’t have the last word.

  27. Very wise especially about the hard work.Though to me it’s not hard as I enjoy it so much

    • I have enjoyed hard work too, though the enjoyment didn’t obscure the difficulty. Sometimes on the contrary, there was gratification from the accomplishment of something difficult. But I will agree with you, Cool lady, that some artists are so gifted that their work is more like play… and so nothing but pleasure for all concerned.

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