the fountain of creativity

all pictures on this post by Stefano Spinelli

My friend Bob mentioned the spark of creativity in his comment on last week’s post. Some see it as the muse. Some have described it as a gift from god. There have been many efforts to analyze and study what allows an artist to bring something out… sometimes from the depth of his soul… that at times, is greater than the artist himself. The illustration that I like of dipping one’s toes in the water, is the image of a person talking on the phone, or some such thing, and starting to doodle on a piece of paper. Sometimes that innocent doodle can become intricate and deep. I had a dear friend who sometimes started drawing on a piece of paper, and as the picture would grow, he would attach his first drawing to the wall with masking tape and then add a sheet of paper or more, and the drawing would grow far outside the original frame.


There are two major stages in the life of an artist. In the first, as a student, it is beneficial to him or her to receive feedback and critique. He can learn from the comments of others. He or she can discover what reaches others; what is understood of his work; what works. But in the second stage, when he or she has matured as a creative artist, there is a need to discount many of the influences outside of himself. He has to dig deep into his soul, and find content that is an expression of his unique personality and awareness. It goes without saying, that the deepest understandings are often engraved as scars on the heart, forgotten memories in the subconscious, of great pain, embarrassment, guilt, and loss. But there is a process of elevating these primal experiences from the heartbroken depths to an enlightened awareness, and this process is called sublimation. It can be a deliverance, a great release, and a source of joy to the same person who once suffered inestimable pain and distress.


There are many ways to deal with these primal wounds and scars. One can go to a psychologist and do the work of excavating the memories that have been buried or put away. The artist does the same work that a person might do with the help of a psychologist. But his work is not to resolve issues… but to take the raw bleeding truth in his arms and bear it as a mother would a new born child, bare to the world. You may ask, what does this have to do with a painter painting a landscape seen on the steps of a mountain, or a poet writing of the rain under dark clouds in autumn? It doesn’t really matter what the painter paints, or the poet sings. An artist has to be a human being too. The greater he is as a human being, the more sensitive he is… the more empathetic… the more he identifies with the world around him, and is aware of the subtleties of life… the more he distills the essence of what was once drowned in noise and conflicting emotions, and pain and misery, and then puts the rags and the torn bits of life in order, the more he grows and matures as an artist, the better he is able to whistle in the crisp air of the mountain top, and see to the horizon, and the air around him transparent, and the expression pure.


For as we said earlier, each person is different… both the artist and the art appreciator. But the artist, in order to express himself with the clarity of art must eliminate the noise, the distractions, the defenses, and the rationalizations which so many of us use to survive what is too painful to think about or to remember. The lies we’ve invented to help us forgive ourselves, and the rationalizations, just get in the way. Those stories may win the compassion of a dear friend, but they aren’t really unique. They are tainted by sickly motivations. It is only when the expression is clean of all foreign influences, and true to the soul of the artist, having the reverberations of a string or a reed on a musical instrument, that the artistic voice can transcend the context of personal experience and join the tree and the wildflower in drinking from the roots and bathing in sunlight, releasing oxygen to the air around us.


The secret of the artist’s fruitfulness is the immense pleasure he receives from the work itself. That is the antidote to writer’s block and the desolation of not knowing what to do. It is the sheer pleasure of work that motivates the artist. He, she, awakes and is stimulated at every step, by every sight and sound. The very experience of life is heard in the reverberations of his soul. He is happiest when he is in conversation with the world and all that surrounds him. And he brings to the conversation his bare soul. He can relate to good and bad. There are times when he confronts the terrible. But it is no longer as a frightened child or victim. He is as strong as a tree or as delicate as a wildflower, but he is secure in his presence as part of the entirety.


The illustrations accompanying this post are the works of a dear friend of mine, Stefano Spinelli . These are photographs of Jerusalem, taken when he was living in our city. He is not Jewish, and came to our city not knowing any Hebrew. He had fallen in love with a woman who came from here. He photographed using a little single-use plastic camera. You usually would shoot one film with the camera, and then it would be thrown away. But he would reload it each time, and he developed the film and printed the pictures by himself. He is a true artist, and his photos are among my favorites of Jerusalem, my home town. I am moved and awestruck by the way he reveals the most intimate aspects of this city that I know as well as my mother’s face.



74 responses to “the fountain of creativity

  1. This is a very beautiful, poignant and profound exploration of the springs of our creativity. Strangely enough I have just finished reading a book about the connection between poetry and theology, with a survey of the poetry of Seamus Heaney, who takes the symbol of water as a ‘leitmotif’ in his work. It is both a source, and a means of revelation and transfiguration. My prayers are for all those in this life who are hurting, that they would find such a transformational process leading them through healing and into freedom and fruitfulness.

    • Thank you very much, Gill. I haven’t yet encountered Seamus Heaney, but the subject sounds very interesting. Water is an often used ‘leitmotif’ in Jewish theological writing. Of course, there are many paths by which a person can heal himself or herself from great pain. To me, there are common signs along the paths, even if the paths are different. Blessed are your prayers.

  2. A very beautiful post, Shimon, and Mr. Spinelli’s photos are captivating; thank you.

  3. A beautiful description of art, artists, and the process of creativity. I greatly enjoyed this – both your words and Stefano Spinelli’s photos.

  4. Shimon,
    Thank for this wonderful post. I am so enjoying your explorations on creativity and the artist’s journey. And thank you for sharing Stefano’s photos here. I love the feelings, the stories they tell. That high contrast, B&W with the normal lens makes me want to pull out my 50mm lens and spend the day shooting. Oh to be able to capture the energy of life as he has in these shots here! A loving expose of Jerusalem.

    • According to our philosophy, the point of a miracle is to wake people up, and help them realize that the commonplace is not to be taken for granted. Unfortunately, even art can become common and ‘for granted’, and so sometimes we must stop and articulate what is happening. Very glad you enjoyed this post, Cathy.

  5. Such beautiful, insightful, and inspiring words this morning, Shimon…..thank you for them, and for the compelling images from your friend.

  6. Beautiful! What you describe could apply to a blues singer…his anxiety and trouble become the means to lift his spirit above them.
    I love reading your blog. It always comnects me with my love for Jerusalem
    and all the amzing soulful people I lnew there.

    Love, Ted

    • Such a surprise and pleasure to get this comment from you, Ted. There are many who remember you with love and longings here in Jerusalem. And you’re right, of course. There is no question that blues is an art form that specifically emphasizes the sorrow in uplifting the heart and soul. How wonderful that I am still able to hear your voice on your recordings. With love, Shimon

  7. A very interesting post Shimon as always. The photographs are wonderful and just go to prove that it’s the photographer not the equipment that’s the most important thing in photography. If you don’t have an eye for a photograph, no amount of equipment will give you that.

    • Yes, if anyone needed proof, this is certainly a testament. Now it’s not only the camera, but a lot of programs that take the place of darkroom tools. But the art is in the soul of the artist. So glad you liked this post, Chillbrook.

  8. This is such a beautiful post, I loved it and especially Stefano’s pictures, they are very haunting.

    When I paint, hours disappear and I’m amazed at how much time has passed. You do get lost in a painting and until it’s complete there is little peace. xxxx

    • I know exactly what your describing, Dina, when you speak of getting lost in a painting… and sometimes there are storms there too… but it is a world we have chosen, and there are infinite pleasures that come with the hard work, and after. xxx

  9. Another excellent and thought-provoking post, Shimon, accompanied by such wonderful images. Thank you.

    • So glad that you enjoyed the post, Lemony. And especially the black and white that Stefano offers us here. Because you too have been working with black and white recently. Even in photography, one can find worlds within worlds… very special niches. Thank you for your comment.

  10. First, the photographs of Stefanos Spinelli. Breathtakingly beautiful and timeless.

    Once again, Shimon, you have put into words so beautifully what it is to be a creative soul. I keep all of your posts on this subject and quote you when giving workshops here in the UK and anywhere else.

    Thank you:)x

    • Oh Janet, it’s always such a great pleasure to share with you, especially because we share a lot in our views of art. I’m so happy to hear that my thoughts come to your mind when you’re giving a workshop. That is a great honor. xxx

  11. Indeed Stefanos Spinelli is a true artist…..and you are a wordsmith.

  12. As usual you touch a nerve, Shimon. Those moments of surrender produce the finest art. Stefano’s photographs are just wonderful.

    • So glad you enjoyed Stefano’s photographs, Richard. He is a stubborn artist, who knows just exactly how far he can get out on a limb… It was inspiring getting to know him, and enjoying his friendship.

  13. like a growing blog: “I had a dear friend who sometimes started drawing on a piece of paper, and as the picture would grow, he would attach his first drawing to the wall with masking tape and then add a sheet of paper or more, and the drawing would grow far outside the original frame…”

    • Ah, you are so right, Frizz. The blog allows new opportunities, and continuous growth for the artist. I look at it as a ‘new’ media. One that begs for adventure.

  14. “The secret of the artist’s fruitfulness
    is the immense pleasure
    he receives from the work itself…”
    [daily for me: playing guitar]

  15. this is so beautiful and is filled with many jewels of genius! if this were printed, i would have underlined or highlighted many selections!

    you are a gift to the world! thank you for this post, and for understanding the true psyche of an artist.

    • Thank you very much, Lisa, for your kind words. I’m very glad that the post spoke to you. I’m sure that many artists recognize in this post, personal experiences that they too have experienced. Outside of the art world, art is often seen as a mystery,

      • Yes, this past week I noted the awe of the locals who veered into the restaurant to watch the progress of the art projects. To many, it seems magical, but part is training the hand to do what the eye (and soul) sees. Although frustrated at times when their attention distracted me from my focus, I reminded myself how lucky I am to have a gift that I can share with others, and without it they might never be inspired.

        the same is true with your beautiful writings.

  16. Great post and your friends pictures just drew me in – I love people pictures particularly in monochrome as they always seem to tell me a story. Was feeling particularly uninspired today but am feeling more motivated now

    • Very glad you found the pictures inspiring, Dallas. There are so many methods and styles in art, that we have endless choices. One of the most crippling situations, though, is a sense of obligation… having to put out. I think that in many cases, this is what causes the famous ‘block’. I like people too, and enjoy looking at faces, and trying to read what they have to say about the person. In writing too, the portrait can be a very fascinating art form.

  17. מוסיקה היא מעיין של יצירתיות

  18. Another beautiful post Shimon, with some gorgeous pictures to accompany it! I too believe secret of the artist’s fruitfulness is the pleasure he receives from the work itself – so true and so eloquently put xx

  19. Even for me, every visit to this small “virtual’ cloud” of yours is always a nice surprise…
    What you express with words, in a truly compelling deph, could not be better explanation of what really the word “creative” means.
    Even the beautiful photos of your friend Stefano, have a pure concreteness: carrying our feelings to the reality of the moment locked up in a black and white image.
    Without “art” man couldn’t move on the spiritual level…
    Art isn’t just painting, photography, poetry or writing. I’m convinced that in any small daily’ action is enclosed the art of expression… in words, caresses, looks…
    Like the woman who arranges the flowers at the mornig market to sell them to the visitors…
    As the mother helps her little boy drinking water from the fountain…
    As a man throwing bread’ crumbles to the ducklings in the lake…
    I find these “artistic gesture”, never dull or distracted. Perhaps as Godschool brings it to us, we can find connections in many human actions impregnated with love… even if I don’t know the lyrics of Seamus Heaney, poetry and discipline that studies the Divine, could give a very pragmatic vision of the divine force that is in every living creature (plant-animal-men).
    serenity Shimon

    • I agree with you, Claudine, that art can be found in many little niches, and in a great many human activities. Sometimes we see mundane activities or simple crafts raised to the level of art. However, I don’t see spiritual activity as dependent on art. I find them parallel in many ways, and believe that either of them could exist without the other, though it is true they have often joined forces. Thank you very much for your thought provoking comment.

  20. Pingback: Every Picture Tells A Story | Crazy Train To Tinky Town

  21. Beautiful post, Shimon! I remember my high school teacher who told me that art is the appreciation of the true, the good and the beautiful. 😉

    • I would agree with your teacher on this view of art, but there are many artists who are trying to teach us different points of view. Some believe it is revelation… including self revelation, and doesn’t have to be good or beautiful. And some believe that there are many truths, including opposite truths. Most of us have a gut feeling about such issues, but it is always worth while to listen to other points of view. Thanks for your comment, Malou.

  22. Just as your post, Shimon, and the striking photos that accompany it, art – whatever the medium – is a resource for healing. Art helps us to love the world no matter what. Thank you for this heartfelt essay.

    • Thank you very much, Tish. My heart goes out to all those who are healing, and more than anything else, I think that love can help. Good to hear from you.

  23. Well, Shimon, I really don’t believe anybody alive could have described the process of creativity in a more lucid way. I read your essay again. I will copy and file it for reference. I don’t often do that, but I know I am going to want to refer to it. “…puts the rags and the torn bits of life in order”. Yes, that’s precisely the way it is.

    Your description of the mature artist applies to the mature person. He no longer confronts the terrible as a victim or as a frightened child. While we exist somewhere between joy and sorrow, the mature artist or the mature person develops a kind of detachment as if he has struggled from the depths to the surface. He can see what is beneath the waves, but it no longer drowns him. The photographs of your friend, Stefano, illustrate that mature capacity to see beneath the surface.

    Thank you for this post, Shimon.

    • I do agree with you, George, that the mature person is much better able to deal with the storms and difficulties of life… and that is a great advantage for all people in all occupations. Strangely enough though, in art, we sometimes see the artist arrive at a certain maturity as an artist, even though he hasn’t reached that maturity as a human being. And when we see such a case from the outside looking in, it can be quite aggravating for the observer. But it does happen. I’m very glad you enjoyed the post, and I value your thoughts and responses. Thank you.

  24. Oh my Shimon! I know I am the Bob that requested this and once again, I am humbled by your ability to weave words. My delay is due to my mother-in-law passing and I’ve been away. I shall keep this as a treasure that it is! Thank you so much.
    One question. (well, one for the time being)…what are the pieces of cloth with holes in them in the last image?

    • Yes, my friend, you are that Bob. And I am sorry at your loss. The pieces of cloth you mention, are Jewish undershirts of an ancient sort. At times they are also worn above the shirt, but in these times they are mostly found under. They have a series of knots tied to them at their four corners, and the threads of the knots, and the knots themselves were meant to remind us that sanctity and holiness are interwoven in all the materials and the world around us.

  25. Shimon, because you are one of the very few readers of my blog…and one of the few people I so treasure in this medium, I wished to let you know that my mother passed away the evening of May 31. I got into the van and drove for four days east to Ontario and will remain with my father until I sense that he is alright for me to leave. I wanted you to know…I have no words presently, for my blog…but I am following your photographs and your writing. Thank you for taking me away through your images. Bless you.

    • Thank you very much for coming by and leaving this comment, Painter Lady, even though you’re going through a period of sorrow right now. How good that you are able to share of your strength with your father at this time. And I do hope that you will find consolation despite the great loss. I myself lost my mother this year. And though she was 101 years old, I realized at her death that it doesn’t matter… even if we expect it, and even if it is the way of nature, the loss of someone we love, is a heartbreak.

  26. I am enjoying the photos your friend took of this ancient city and it’s people. They are thought-provoking and almost haunting. I immediately think, “this is where Jesus walked and lived.” Jerusalem! Jerusalem!

    • Yes, I can imagine how moving it is. And the fact that the pictures are black and white makes them timeless in a way. I’m glad you enjoyed them, and it is a pleasure to meet you. Thanks for coming by, Joy.

  27. The pictures are excellent. It’s amazing that they were taken on one of those small plastic cameras.

    I was touched by how you expressed your thoughts about creativity. You mentioned how “the deepest understandings are often engraved as scars on the heart, forgotten memories in the subconscious, of great pain, embarrassment, guilt, and loss.” Being able to express these in paint or marble or photographic paper or words can heal not only ourselves but others as well. And even if we do not achieve full healing, we grow in understanding and compassion. It takes a long time to learn how to live.

    • Healing is a very important part of life, and seems close to miraculous when it’s happening. There’s so much that can be learned from the process. But even among those who are doing well, art can open up doors in what once seemed brick walls, and enable communication between people who are far removed from one another. It can bridge between different time frames, and wake up the sleeping. Though we know too, that not all art does that, and that certain art will work for one person and not another. Thanks so much for your beautiful comment, yearstricken.

  28. This is so very beautiful and thought-provoking. I plan on printing it out so I can keep it read it again later when I need to be reminded about the meaning behind art and being an artist. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    • Very glad you found this interesting, Kari Ann. Now that you guys have come back from an intensive trip abroad, you will probably be remembering all sorts of separate incidents and experiences you had on your trip, and little by little stories will come together, together with pictures you shot along the way. That too is part of the creative process. I’ll be looking forward to interesting impressions from your trip. Thanks for the comment.

      • Shimon, may I ask you a question? While we were in Europe our cat ran away and hasn’t been seen for a week. He has never been gone for more than 24 hours. We had people staying with him and they said he was fine and happy the first week and then just disappeared. Has your cat ever run away like this and come back? You seem to know a lot about cats so I was wondering if you have any advice on finding him or getting him to come back. Thanks.

        • I am very sorry to hear this story, Kari Ann. I don’t know much about your cat, nor your neighborhood. But I can tell you that male cats are famous for taking off on adventures (as long as they haven’t been castrated), from which they usually come back. But cats in general can be very extreme when there are radical changes around them. Please do let me know if he returns.

          • I have heard male cats are sometimes gone for as much as a month and then turn up so I’m not giving up hope that he will come back. I’ve been putting food and water our for him and haven’t stopped looking for him. I will let you know if he comes back.

  29. Our cat is home! A neighbor found him about a mile from our house. He is thin and anxious but I’m sure he’ll be back to himself soon.

    • I am so glad to hear this news. Thanks very much for telling meת Kשרן Aממ. Cats usually get thinner in the summer, so I wouldn’t worry too much about his being thin. But it is possible that he got lost. I too am sure he’ll soon be back to normal.

  30. Spinelli’s photos are wonderful. The top pic, especially with the person who looks like he/she is a part of that stone wall, a part of Nature, as we all are, and the bottom pic, so every-day but says a lot.

    Interestingly, I am told my first name, Janina, means ‘gift from god’, although I have yet to come across anyone who thinks that, including my mother (now deceased)! LOL. As to the rest of your article, I certainly identify with it most closely and have found my muse in Nature. You have great insight, shimon. Shalom.

    • Hi Janina. If you’re talking about the second picture from top, that person is sitting in a train, and he or she has a slight reflection in the window, but is sitting in the shadow. I love it too. I suppose you’re asking me about your name in Hebrew. There are some names that do mean ‘gift from god’. Nathaniel is a prime example, but I don’t see the connection in your name. But I do like the sound of your name. Nature can be a great muse, I agree. Thank you for your comment. It is good to hear from you.

      • Shimon, Re the pic, I was referring to the first pic in your post. And, No, I was not asking about what my name would be in Hebrew, but perhaps. now that you’ve brought it up, perhaps you could give a guesstimate! That would be interesting. 🙂

        • Well, on that first picture, I didn’t see what you saw. For me, that person really stood out. As for the name, it has a Hebrew sound to it, but it isn’t a Hebrew name. Almost all Hebrew names have a specific meaning. For instance, my name, Shimon, means listener. I’ve heard that American Indians had names like ours.

          • Re the first pic — I see the dark shape of what looks like a person, against the right-wall; perhaps it is just a shadow! One could read a meaning into just that idea — man as part of Nature leaning against a stone wall, perhaps trying to get back to Nature! As to my name, it is Polish. As to your name, Yes, I can see how the meaning suits you very well…. 🙂

            • Okay, now I see what you were pointing at. I had a feeling that it was a coat that was hanging there, but it could have been a shadow. I wasn’t there when the picture was taken. Thanks for making it clear.

  31. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    I love the rawness of this piece, Shimon. This one speaks very clearly to me. It’s excellent.

    I hadn’t thought of those two stages of an artist. It has me realise much. This piece is just GREAT. Thank you, an excellent read.

  32. Shimon, I apologize for my late comment. I had bookmarked this post, to come back to it, because when I read through it the first time, there were simply too many things I wanted to say, and I needed some time to clear my head a bit before even attempting to speak on this post.

    Even now, weeks later, I feel tongue-tied and clumsy, but will attempt to share at least one thought about this post. Your words about creativity, and the different stages of an artist, and how art can often become a form of healing … well, it all stirred up something in me that still hasn’t quieted.

    Let me put it this way. For several years, especially in my early blogging days, I would write about some memories that were especially painful. Writing about them helped me release some of the pain, and helped me find a new perspective, and allowed me the chance to use words as a tool towards healing. In addition to how this helped me in many ways, I also hoped that it might help those that were viewing the story. Those stories were some of the most honest conversations I’ve ever experienced, and even though I felt compelled to put the words on the page, very often, I would somehow feel violated after they existed in black and white. It was painful to hold the memories in; and yet, it was painful to expose them.

    Invariably, the feedback I received on these pieces would be overwhelmingly positive, and encouraging, and spoke of triumph over tragedy. From my perspective, I was having a difficult time seeing the triumph part of that equation, but still knew these stories were essential to helping me heal. Receiving the feedback was crucial to the process. It provided an external source of acknowledgement; someone had witnessed my pain, and had taken the time to let me know they heard my words.

    Here’s my dilemma today. I feel it is my responsibility to use my words cautiously and carefully, and to tilt them in the direction of providing inspiration, rather than simply illuminating the pain. I am still in the process of trying to figure out how to achieve that goal, but now, because I have changed the direction of how I try to put my words on paper, my creativity feels stifled, and empty, and bereft of authenticity. The words that once floated on the wisps of air, now lay in a puddle near the ground, feeling weighted and leaden, and false.

    I’m not even sure where I’m going with this, except to say that your post about creativity has me examining my own process, and wondering how to discover that same feeling of freedom and release and relief, rather than being stifled by the parameters I have placed around putting the words on paper. I appreciate that you have shared your thoughts about this subject, and thank you, as always, for providing such a deep and complex perspective; one that has given me the opportunity to perhaps identify why my process today is not working, and helped nudge me in the direction of striking out in a new direction.

    • You have nothing to apologize for. Your comments are always precious to me, because you relate on a deep level. When I first discovered your blog, I remember wondering whether I wanted to read it again… after the first time. It was too painful for me. And usually, I don’t read anything or watch any movies that might remind me of my own childhood. One unique exception was the movie Fanny & Alexander by Bergman… because it was real art. But I haven’t read Dickens for the same reason, even though I am convinced that he is a great writer.

      In regard to your dilemma, I have to say that art can often be disturbed and dismissed by the well meaning desire to ‘tell the good news’. To use only one example, William Burroughs. He dealt with pain and weakness and revulsion, and never lost the inherent value of his art, because he overcame the temptation to justify himself. I believe that sometimes it’s necessary to take a break, and read or listen to the works of others. But that’s just a break. One thing I would suggest in your predicament, would be to invent a character that you have met as a mature woman. She is now going through what you once experienced yourself. You know all the reasons why you don’t have any miracle cures for her, but you do have love for her. The stories she will tell will be hers, but your conversations will allow you to represent the differences between the persona that has learned a lot of wisdom over the years, and the persona of the person trapped in hell. I think such an exercise might free you up to do some wonderful writing, and I really hope you do it, because I would want to read it. You have my blessing always, N.

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