The main purpose of my dissertation “The Making of Inspiration – From Monet to Warhol and beyond” was to find out what is the role of the sources of inspiration in the creative process.
My research has been artistic. My background is in art and design, and during this process I organized three solo exhibitions which were evaluated as an artistic component of this research. In addition, I took part in 14 other group exhibitions during the research process. I could say that exhibition making became the main method for my research. It was precisely my artistic process, ready artefacts and exhibitions that informed my research, and along with the written part, they answer to the investigations of this research. Therefore, some answers cannot and should not be verbalized.
As it is not possible to time travel to actually see my exhibitions, during this lectio, I will do my best to present my artistic practice, so that you could have a more precise idea of the ways that I have conducted this research.
I would like to start by reading a story, that I have written. This story is almost like a fairy-tale, it presents a metaphor of my artistic practice that took place during the research process.
Maybe you would like to close your eyes and imagine while I am reading.
Once upon a time in a distant land of imagination and dreams lived an artist in an extraordinary house. Before finding the house, the artist had been wondering lost in the woods for a long, long time. That house was like an amoeba; it was able to transform and renew, sometimes new rooms would appear, and others disappear. After some time in the house, the artist began to learn how to affect the changes in the house; some wishes of the artist would then materialize even though sometimes it happened before she even knew what she had been hoping for. Sometimes the house resembled a modest cottage, another time it became more like a castle, with numerous rooms and towers. The outside of the castle would change too, from sea to forest or a garden filled with flowers, all in bloom even in the middle of the coldest darkest winter.
In these mysterious ways the house supported the artist in creating. Before making anything, she would sit down and close her eyes and imagine; the rooms of the house would start to change. A door would open in front of her eyes, and through it she was able to enter the place of her choice. She felt like Alice in Wonderland, except that she had the feeling of being able to take part in the transformation and be partly in control. The artist would walk in her house and surroundings and visit all the places she had imagined; the garden of Monet in Giverny, Warhol’s Silver Factory in New York, any era or any place she had ever dreamed of.
The artist was never alone, other artists were also invited as guests to her house, and everybody came: from Akseli Gallen-Kallela to Emil Nolde or Niki de Saint Phalle. They were all dead, but it was not a problem. Every one of the guests changed the house; it was adjusting to them. The guests and the transformations that they induced became great sources of inspiration for the artist. There were wonderful exchanges and endless inspiration reigned inside the house. Some would claim that the house did not exist outside the artist’s imagination, but for her it felt very real. And when the artist finally started to create, she never needed to fear a lack of ideas, instead she had found a bottomless well of inspiration.
Now you can open your eyes, and i will present some main points of my research.
The first case study was titled Monet and me – The story of an inspiration
Here I tried to grasp what kind of relationship is formed between the
practitioner and the source of inspiration? At the centre of my investigation was French
painter Claude Monet, his waterlilies paintings in the Parisian Orangerie museum and his
garden in Giverny.
In this photo (above) you can see Monet photographed in his garden in Giverny in 1908. The reason why I selected Monet to deal with the relationship between the artist and the source of inspiration, was the special relationship that Monet had with his own source of inspiration, his garden in Giverny.
The garden itself was another of Monet’s creations as he was an ardent gardener – nevertheless, when he planted his waterlilies, he never thought of painting them. He somehow had to discover their beauty through the time.
Here (above) you can see Monet’s waterlilies paintings hanging in Parisian Orangerie museum. Monet spent last decades of his life in painting his garden, as he was preparing the famous waterlilies and weeping willows paintings
The paintings hanging in the Orangerie museum were a gift from the artist for the French government. Monet never saw the end result, as the paintings were hung there only after his death, but the oval halls of Orangerie lit by the natural light coming from the ceiling, had been executed after Monet’s personal wishes. The artist had planned them to resemble the experience of entering his garden, the experience of entering his painting, and this inspired me significantly.
I channelled Monet’s inspiration into my artistic practice, here you can see my one of my sketches (image below the text).
Monet was passioned about light and this directed me to work with grattage technique. Many of you might know this technique from the elementary school, first an oil pastel-drawn image is covered with a darker colour layer, which is then scratched with a sharp tool such as needle or knife. As a result, the image beneath becomes partly uncovered. Now a previously figurative image had gone through abstraction, broken into tiny fragments, where small areas of colours were divided by countless incisions. Later I reworked these sketches into woven jacquards and hand-tufted rya rugs.
For this Monet case, I decided also to work with ceramics as my textiles were matt, soft and suffocatingly warm, I felt that they needed some kind of contrast. Once I had finished the ceramics pieces equally inspired by Monet’s paintings and flowery garden, I was told that there was a visual similarity to the 16th century French ceramicist Bernard Palissy’s works, as you can see in the image. This platter is from last quarter of the 16th century.
While working on the Monet theme, I had managed to create a some kind of private imaginary universe, which gave me the necessary motivation and desire to go on with my work. Instead of loneliness, I felt a sense of belonging – as my visits to Monet’s garden and the Orangerie had provided me with concrete site-specific memories.
In the second case, the purpose was to tackle the differences between copying and inspiration, and as a source of inspiration I chose American artist Andy Warhol, as he himself used appropriation as an elementary part of his artistic practice.
(The following paragraph is referencing a picture, which was left out due to copyright issues.)
Here you can see the photograph titled Hibiscus Flowers that nature photographer Patricia Caulfield took in 1964. The Photo was the same year taken by Warhol as material for his Flowers silk–screen series. In the right-hand side photo you can see Warhol in front of his Flowers in 1973.
Caulfield found out quickly that Warhol had taken her image without permission, she brought charges against him, but the case was settled out of court.
Here (above) are my hand-tufted rug copies of Warhol’s Flowers. I was playing safe when I decided to copy one of Warhol’s artworks, as I knew for certain that he would not blame me for doing so, already there had been other artists such as Elaine Sturtevant before me.
What I really wanted to discover related to the topic of copying, was my own position. How I would I feel during the process? While slowly copying Flowers into my rug and rug cushion pieces I did not gain any significant Heureka-moment, instead I started to bond with my artworks, and strangely they started to feel as if they were mine as well.
After the rug project, I started to wonder how I could possibly go further with my Warhol-inspired cases than copying from him directly? I designed a mould-blown glass collection titled Saaristo64 [Archipelago64], based on inspiration sourced from Warhol’s serigraphy series Death and Disasters from 1964. Hence, I adopted a slightly different approach. I took the role of a product designer and copied myself using repetition. What I mean by copying myself was that I created with help of computer and CNC-machine moulds that would produce multiple versions of same designs.
Here (above) you see the wooden moulds used in the glassblowing sessions. It came as a surprise that I ended up working with a whole factory of people. As a glass design beginner, I required more support than somebody with more experience. There were up to 12 people involved in the process, one way or another.
Collaboration became the most central feature of the process, and the whole idea of singular authorship that is so deeply rooted in the traditional world of design started to seem more and more fuzzy.
I created all together 5 different shapes, they were all quite similar, I even copy-pasted some of the angles from one design to another. At the end of the process, I tried to understand my own claim of ‘copying myself’.
The pieces had different colours, yet the overall forms looked very similar. The uniqueness of each piece was lost when repeated like this. It was impossible to define which one was the first and therefore the ‘original’ one.
Copying in a negative sense is always in some ways related to profit. It is not always easy to determine whether something was done for profit or not, but a good cue is to verify whether the original source is openly cited or not.
The third case study was centred on the idea of sharing authorship. With the help of three main sources of inspiration: the Finnish Art-Nouveau villa Hvitträsk, and two rya rugs, Flame and Seagull, I investigated the possibility of a concept of ‘shared authorship’. This photo of Hvitträsk was taken by Signe Brander early 20th century.
Warhol case led to this one as I started to question if authorship could be understood from a more collaborative standpoint, which would emphasize the complexity of creative processes.
This time I selected several sources of inspiration. My main source “Hvitträsk” was designed by three Finnish architects: Herman Gesellius, Armas Lindgren and Eliel Saarinen, and was itself a collaborative project. Hvitträsk was considered to be a complete work of art, where everything from furniture to textiles, from lamps to other decorative pieces were either designed by the trio, their friends and family or local craftsmen.
Next to Hvitträsk I selected two other sources, Flame (sketch from 1902) rya rug by Finnish artist Akseli Gallen–Kallela and Seagull rya rug on the right side by Finnish Architect Jarl Eklund. Both rugs have a some kind of connection two Hvitträsk and each other; Gallen-Kallela gave a version of Flame to his friend Eliel Saarinen, and as a young architect Eklund was working in Hvitträsk, and he must have been familier with Flame that time.
The specificity of this last case study was that I was able to present my artworks inside of my source of inspiration. My third dissertation related exhibition took place in Hvitträsk. During the process, I was able to spend a lot time in there, I was drawing the place and imagining how and what kind of artworks would fit in there. Here you see my sketch of the atelier space.
Unexpectedly, the ‘Hvitträsk experience’ transformed into a home-like one. I was not aware of that growing sensation of familiarity while it was occurring – it took place so slowly and unconsciously. I became infatuated by Hvitträsk’s atmosphere and singular aesthetics. At the beginning, I had been trying to imagine its previous inhabitants – this idea was soon replaced by me imagining myself living there.
In this photo you can perceive my rug Tristan hanging on the atelier wall and some of my ceramic pieces underneath.
I found myself in Heidegger’s description of the artist as a passageway. Hvitträsk, Flame and Seagull had inhabited me and through me the artworks emerged and became part of the world of today.Heidegger stressed that this artist-passageway destroyed itself in every process. I see it as the artist-passageway renewing itself each time when the process changes, when works of art are ready and being brought to become a part of the present and continue a life of their own. I was not a passive passageway, but instead, I was actively taking part in the becoming of the works of art. In the process, I was filtering and deforming the essence of the sourced inspiration, in a way which I identify now as collaborative.
Many factors acted as my collaborators during this process: there was the place (Hvitträsk), along with ‘other sources of inspiration’ (Flame and Seagull) as well as the ‘historical era’ (early 1900), which was demonstrated by the overall aesthetics, and the history and the invisible presence of its creators and previous inhabitants. ‘Materials’ from clay to glass or textile and ‘equipment’ along with other ‘actors’ such as glassblowers or museum staff played all their part.
My inquiry into shared authorship had become a collaborative effort where various actors did not need to actually ‘meet’: time and space were transcended, and the interaction occurred, for example, through visual traces (such as artworks) and their materialities.
One of my conclusions was that “creative practice is co–emergent practice” where the artist represents only one player, in this image you see Gallen-Kallela in Juselius mauseleum in 1903 working side-by-side with his co-workers.
This study has brought new, more exact tools to work with and talk about the concept of inspiration and more precisely ‘the sources of inspiration’. The idea of mystically arriving otherworldly inspiration has faded as this study has clarified how the practitioner can actively seek suitable sources according to her needs.
The sources of inspiration should be always cited. This gives more value to the artworks when they can be linked into the thread of various connections; this does not fade away magicality of the artistic process, as artworks will continue to also communicate directly without words and trigger emotions.
Understanding the role of sources of inspiration as a concrete part of the creative process widens the entire understanding of the process – it stretches backwards and draws a picture of a process that starts well before the practitioner even enters the studio.
So, to return to the initial inquiry of this research: what was the role of the sources of inspiration in my creative practice? Sources of inspiration guided my process, like friends, guests or confidants and their qualities allowed me to dream about the content of the final works. Every time that I chose a new source of inspiration, I re-evaluated my identity as an artist and designer, I reflected upon myself in relation to my source(s) and I questioned my working methods and their meaning. Sources of inspiration grew in me, became part of me, and I became impregnated by some of their essence. As result, I became more connected to the ‘world’.