11 February 2016

Kabbalah of Parallel Creations: Divine and Human

From The Times of Israel, February 11, 2016, http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/kabbalah-of-parallel-creations-divine-and-human/

The seventh portion of Exodus, Terumah/Contribution, is read from the Torah scroll on Shabbat, February 13, 2016.

I draw on kabbalah to explore the 50 links between the two tapestries made to cover the Tabernacle described in this week’s Torah portion.  Kabbalah is a down-to-earth mysticism that provides a symbolic language, a spiritual bar code, for exploring how divine energies are drawn down into our everyday world.

First, I present here one of the 52 posts of the Torah Tweets blogart project that my wife Miriam and I created to celebrate our 52nd year of marriage. During each of the 52 weeks of our 52nd year, we posted photographs reflecting our life together with a text of tweets that relates the weekly Torah reading to our lives.  See how Miriam and I link the Torah portion Terumah/Contribution to our life together at http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.co.il/2014/01/exodus-7-parallel-creations.html

The second part presents a discussion of kabbalah in selected excerpts from the chapter “Discovering Kabbalah through a Creative Lens” in my book PHOTOGRAPH GOD: CREATING A SPIRITUAL BLOG OF YOUR LIFE http://photographgod.com.

EXODUS 7: PARALLEL CREATIONS

Terumah/Contribution (Exodus 25:1-27:19)

“Make 50 loops on one tapestry and 50 loops on the edge of the second tapestry so that are parallel (maKBiLot) to one another.   Make 50 golden fasteners to join the tapestries together so that the Tabernacle should be one.” (Exodus: 26:5,6)

(Our grandson Or Alexenberg is the photographer for "Parallel Creations.")



The Tabernacle was not covered by one tapestry canopy, but by two that complement one another.

The word maKBiLot in this Torah portion is the source of the word KaBaLah, an exploration of parallel creative processes, Divine and human

This parallelism between human creativity and Divine Creation is derived from the confluence of two scriptural passages: 

The Tabernacle’s chief artist Bezalel was filled with “a Divine spirit, with Wisdom, Understand, and Knowledge and with artistic talent.” (Exodus: 31:3).

“God founded the earth in Wisdom, established heavens in Understanding, and with Knowledge the depths opened and skies dripped dew.” (Proverbs: 3:19-20).

Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge are only found together in the Bible to describe the creative artist and God, the Creator of the universe.

Kabbalah invites us to discover spiritual secrets of God’s Creation through gaining insight into our own creative process.  

Having been created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), every person has the potential to create new worlds, to renew the cosmos.    

When you photograph God with the creative eyes of an artist you become God’s partner in creation.

Or Alexenberg created photographs of the majestic Negev mountains where he lives and works as a professional photographer.

He explored the desert’s diversity with his creative lens: trees, migrating birds, ibex at the Ramon Crater, and first blooms of spring.

KABBALAH AS A SPIRITUAL BAR CODE

I hear the word kabbalah spoken frequently in Israel where I live.  I hear it from the supermarket checkout clerk when she hands me the long paper ribbon saying, “kabbalah shelkhah,”  “your receipt.”  The Hebrew word kabbalah means “receipt.”  In addition to its use in mundane affairs, kabbalah is the hidden wisdom of the deep structure of Jewish consciousness received from generation to generation.  It is appropriate that both a supermarket computer printout and the Jewish mystical tradition share the same word.  We all stand illiterate before the secret language of the digital age that only supermarket lasers can read — the bar code on boxes, bottles, and cans.  Kabbalah is a down-to-earth mysticism that provides a symbolic language, a spiritual bar code, for exploring how divine energies are drawn down into our everyday world.

When my wife, Miriam, and I carry our groceries from our car in the underground garage to the elevator, we hear an automated announcement in both Hebrew and English: "knisah rashit kabbalah, main entrance reception."   Kabbalah is the reception desk at the entrance to our building. Entering our apartment, we unpack the bags and cook lunch together.   It is being in our kitchen with each other that the mystical secrets of life, the deepest meaning of human existence, are revealed.

KITCHEN KABBALAH

Studying kabbalah invites the learner to visualize its symbolic language in terms of concrete experiences.  The deepest mysteries of kabbalah can only be understood at the level of everyday life.  In his book Fragments of a Future Scroll, Rabbi Zalman Schachter tells a Hasidic tale set in Eastern Europe more than a century ago to illuminate this core concept in understanding kabbalah.

Shmuel Munkes was walking down a road on his way to see his illustrious Rebbe when an elegant carriage stops.  A well-dressed dandy invites him to ride with him since he is going to see the Rebbe, too.  The dandy brags about being the son and grandson of kabbalists.  Shmuel asks this self-proclaimed kabbalist for help in deciphering a kabbalistic text of cosmic proportions that he said he had found on a scrap of paper in a old holy book:

"In the very primal beginning there was chaos—all was sundered and separate.  Grainy nuclei unconnected.  Swirling.  Then fiat, they were one in one sphere.  The sphere unfolded into an orb.  On the orb-lines appeared, forces cut the space in fields.  These fields became centered in a point and enfolded the point.  Peace was made between fiery angels and the angels of the vital fluid and in their cooperation all came our as it ought to be."

The dandy expressed amazement at this mystical text that he admitted he could not place.  Shmuel explained that since he was a young student, he would have to wait weeks before the Rebbe would see him.  He said, “Since you are such an important man, you will be invited to see the Rebbe soon after you arrive in town.  Please ask the Rebbe about the text and tell me what he says.”  The dandy agrees and does get to see the Rebbe without a long wait.  The Rebbe slowly reads from the scrap of paper, closes his eyes and stares into inner places searching for the deepest meaning the text.  He opens his eyes and turns to the anxious dandy explaining the text with one word: kreplach (a Jewish version of ravioli).

"In the very primal beginning there was chaos—all was sundered and separate, grainy nuclei unconnected swirling.” (That was flour.)  “Then fiat, they were in one sphere.” (Dough.)  “The sphere unfolded into an orb.” (The dough was rolled out flat.)  “On the orb lines appeared, forces cut the space into fields.” (Of course, diamond shaped pieces of dough are cut and meat put in.)  “The fields became centered in a point and enfolded the point. Peace was made between fiery angels and the angels of the vital fluid.”  (As the pot was filled with water and put on the stove to boil, the kreplach were put in.) “And in their cooperation all came out as it ought to be."
The Rebbe laughed when he finally saw Shmuel.  “What a dish you cooked up,” he said.

CREATIVITY AND ORIGINALITY

Kabbalah teaches how your creativity can draw holiness into a profane world by opening channels through which divine light illuminates your material reality.  You become a creator of worlds when you use your camera to reveal fresh visions of God in your surroundings in ways that no one has ever seen before.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik sees the transformation of the profane into the sacred when you become a partner of God in the act of creation, when you bringing into being something new, something original. Through your acts of creation, transcendence is lowered into the midst of our turbid, coarse, physical world.   The person who never creates, the passive type who is derelict in fulfilling his task of creation, the person who never brings into being anything new, cannot be holy. If you wish to attain holiness, you must become a creator of new ways of seeing the world.          

Abraham Isaac Kook, a poet and down-to-earth mystic who served as the chief rabbi of the Land of Israel during the first part of the 20th century, teaches:

“Whoever is endowed with the soul of a creator must create works of imagination and thought, for the flame of the soul rises by itself and one cannot impede it on its course…. The creative individual brings vital, new light from the higher source where originality emanates to the place where it has not previously been manifest, from the place that ‘no bird of prey knows, nor has the falcon’s eye seen.’ (Job 28:7), ‘that no man has passed nor has any person dwelt’” (Jeremiah 2:6).

CHOREOGRAPHY FOR THE DANCE OF THE MIND

Kabbalah is a metaphorical way of thinking rather than a body of knowledge to be seized.  Rabbi Arthur Green teaches that kabbalah offers a choreography for a dance of the mind to be apprehended by the part of the mind that appreciates poetry and hears its inner music. 

This imaginative way of thinking led to the creation of a graphic model representing a spectrum of ten hues of divine light flowing down into our everyday world.  Each of these hues is called a sephirah (sephirot in plural).  The ten sephirot are interconnected by 22 pathways, each representing one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.  Hebrew letters are not merely letters.  They are the raw material of Creation combined into phrases in the spiritual realm like atoms into molecules in the physical realm and bits into bytes in the digital realm.   

TREE OF LIFE

The kabbalistic model of creative process, both divine and human, is depicted by ten sephirot with 22 pathways linking them.  It is called a “Tree of Life.”  It was crystallized by Rabbi Isaac Luria, known as The Ari, and his circle in the Galilee mountain town of Tzfat in the sixteenth century.  In a single visual image, it revealed the major concepts of kabbalah that had formerly been hidden in a vast body of obscure verbal discourse that could only be deciphered by a learned few.  It made a profound contribution to understanding the complexities of kabbalah by a wider circle of people.

The ten sephirot are grouped into four Worlds: Emanation/Intention, Creation/Mind, Formation/Emotions, and Action/Making.  Although the Hebrew names of these worlds are usually translated as Emanation, Creation, Formation and Action, it is most relevant to the aims of this book to call the worlds by names denoting their meanings: Intention, Mind, Emotions, and Action. 

At the top of the Tree of Life, closest to the source of the emanation of divine light, is the sephirah of Crown (Keter) the will and intention to create essential to setting the process of creation in motion.  Crown is the single sephirah of the World of Intention.   

Crown is followed by two cognitive sephirot: Wisdom (Hokhmah) and Understanding (Binah) of the World of Mind.  Wisdom and Understanding are followed by six affective sephirot of the World of Emotions: Compassion (Hesed), Strength (Gevurah), Beauty (Tiferet), Success (Netzakh), Splendor (Hod), and Foundation (Yesod).  The eight sephirot from Crown to Splendor are funneled through Foundation into in the tenth sephirah Kingdom (Malchut) where they are actualized in the realm of space and time in our here and now World of Action.

Consciousness of the flow of divine light down through the worlds of Mind, Emotions, and Action “liberate the people who are blind though they have eyes and deaf though they have ears” (Isaiah 43:7-8).  Photography can be liberating when you open your eyes fully to see what was always there in fresh and creative ways.  Be on the lookout for acts of compassion, strength, beauty, success, and splendor as they illuminate the World of Action.  Listen closely enough to discover the delicate beauty in elusive melodies emanating from your everyday life.   Pay attention to the cries of the widow and orphan and the songs of birds.         

07 February 2016

Artist confronts France’s embrace of Iran’s genocidal regime

by Mel Alexenberg

On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Hollande enthusiastically welcomed Hassan Rouhani, president of the Holocaust-denying, genocidal Iranian regime.

In the tradition of Picasso’s Guernica, I propose to President Francois Hollande to double the size of the dozens of Holocaust memorials in France to mark the murder of 6,000,000 Jews in Europe.   These upgraded Holocaust memorials will include in advance the extermination of the 6,000,000 Jews in Israel today that Iranians and the Palestinians are planning with France’s help.

On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Hollande enthusiastically welcomed Hassan Rouhani, president of the Holocaust-denying genocidal Iranian regime.  Less than a week later, France threatened to recognize the establishment of a terrorist state of Palestine in the historic heartland of Israel.  

Future Holocaust Memorials is a wake-up call warning the world of France’s actions to trigger a second Holocaust.   It follows in the artistic tradition of Picasso, crying out against a barbaric prelude to genocide.

Just as European leaders’ acquiescence to Hitler’s raining bombs on the Spanish village of Guernica gave him the license to proceed with preparing for WW II and the exterminating Europe’s Jews on his way to global conquest, France is supporting Iranian ayatollahs and Palestinian jihadists in their efforts to annihilate Israel as a prelude to destroying the democratic way of life everywhere. 

The same French who established a Nazi Vichy government that rounded up the French Jews for slaughter in the 1940s subsequently built dozens of Holocaust memorials and museums in France to honor the 6,000,000 Jews that they participated in murdering.  It seems that France loves dead Jews but loathes living ones. 

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein decried the “hypocrisy” of France hosting Iranian President Rouhani. “I have no words for the hypocrisy of the presidents of countries, like France, that on International Holocaust Remembrance Day host the president of Iran,” he said. “We will have to continue our struggle to make sure the Holocaust is remembered and so that others’ consciences will speak to them.”  Edelstein also mentioned the Holocaust cartoon contest sponsored by the Tehran Municipality and set for June, carrying a $50,000 prize.

Michael Oren, former ambassador of Israel to the United States, asked: “How can Europe respect the memory of the Holocaust, while on the same exact day it hosts the leader of the Iranian regime, which denies that the Holocaust even happened?”

Seventy years after Auschwitz, the president of France is full of smiles as he honors the Iranian president in Paris who threatens to exterminate all the Jews of Israel.    

The Iranians are up-front about their intentions:  "Israel is doomed to be wiped off the map in a war of destiny.  "Israel no longer has reason to exist and will soon disappear."  "Israel is a disgraceful stain on the Islamic world and a rotten dried tree that will be eliminated by one storm."

When Rouhani and his henchmen call for the incineration another 6,000,000 Jews, believe them.  

Instead of telling the Iranians to end their Holocaust denial, support for terrorism, and genocidal threats, the French are enthusiastically arranging billions of eruros worth of business with Iran, including the sale of dual-use technologies to boost Iran’s nuclear and missile development. 
In addition to honoring Iranian anti-Semitism, France threatens to recognize a Palestinian terrorist state on the highlands overlooking Tel Aviv.  In the previous election for a Palestinian parliament, the majority in both the West Bank and Gaza elected Hamas, whose charter reads: 

“Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims…. Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him…. I indeed wish to go to war for the sake of Allah! I will assault and kill, assault and kill, assault and kill.”

Palestinian public opinion data from surveys conducted by four independent research groups over the past 25 years exposed Palestinian positions about Israel that all bear directly on the current Palestinian terrorist offensive.  A solid majority of Palestinians have supported terrorism against Israelis.  Moreover, the more murderous an attack, the more it is supported.  The vast majority of Palestinians state that they hate Israelis and believe that Jews have no right to the Land of Israel, and therefore the Jewish state has no right to exist.

When 80-year old Abbas dies or retires, the struggle for power in the West Bank will be between Fatah, Hamas that rules Gaza, and Islamic State seeking a caliphate that demands that Israel be eliminated.

The author is professor emeritus of art and Jewish thought at Ariel University, professor of art and education at Columbia University and Bar-Ilan University and research fellow at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies. 

Clarifications, The Jerusalem Post, February 9, 2016

Unlike what was stated at the top of the February 7 front page in the box promoting his op-ed piece “Artist confronts France’s embrace of Iran’s genocidal regime,” which appeared on page 13 in the same issue, Mel Alexenberg is not a “French” artist.  We regret the error.

He told The Jerusalem Post in response:  “I am far removed from being a French artist.  I was born in New York and made aliyah with my wife and our three children in 1969.  Our fourth child was born in Israel.  After nearly half-century as an Israeli citizen, I think I qualify as an Israeli artist.”

“The only time I saw France was through a train window as it crossed the entire country from west to east in July 1976.  When my wife and I arrived from our hotel in Brussels at the train station, I saw the headlines that France condemned Israel for violating the territorial sovereignty of Uganda to rescue the Jews from an Air France plane hijacked to Entebbe by Arab and German terrorists.  I refused to exit the train in Paris for our planned vacation.  I paid for a ticket to the next stop – Basel.  We vacationed in Switzerland.” 

“It seems that French contempt for Jews and Israel hasn’t changed since Israel’s daring rescue of endangered Jews in which our prime minister’s brother Yoni was killed.”  

04 February 2016

On the 7th Day, Tune Out, Turn Off, Unplug



The sixth portion of Exodus, Mishpatim/Ordinances, is read from the Torah scroll on Shabbat, February 6, 2016.  See how my wife Miriam and I link this Torah portion to our life together through photographs and Torah Tweet texts at http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.co.il/2014/01/exodus-6-tune-out-turn-off-unplug.html

Exodus 6: TUNE OUT, TURN OFF, UNPLUG

Mishpatim/Ordinances (Exodus 21:1-24:18)

“Six days shall you accomplish your activities and on the seventh day you shall desist.” (Exodus 23:12)  “The seventh day is Sabbath... you shall not do any creative work.” (Exodus 20:10)




As slaves under Egyptian oppression, the Israelites were forced to work incessantly with no breaks. Their time was not their own.

A day of rest was a revolutionary concept in the ancient world with power today to free us from addiction to digital technologies.

The Sabbath was given at Sinai as a gift for all humanity, a gift particularly valuable to everyone in our fast paced postdigital world.

In our home on the Sabbath, computer, TV, radio, mobile phones and landlines remain silent.

On day 7, we don't e-mail, don't tweet on Twitter, don’t write on Facebook walls, don't link on LinkedIn, don't Google, don't blog.

We don't travel the information or asphalt highways. Pollution from information overload and carbon emissions is stopped cold on day 7.   

No banks of TVs, bank ATM's, phone sales, wireless access to all Israeli citizens for issuing gas masks, nor coffee shop video totems.   

Shabbat is Ecology Day, a day we leave the world the way we got it, a joyous day set aside to take pleasure in divine creation. 

Shabbat is also a Non-Art Day on which we stop making all art – postdigtal, digital, and pre-digital. 

All activities inappropriate on Shabbat are derived from the 39 craft categories that went into making the Tabernacle.

Shabbat is a divine design to help make us be more human.  It offers us a quiet pool of time for enjoying family and friends.

On the eighth day, we can return with renewed energies to being partners of God in continuing creation. 

SHABBAT IS A DIVINE GIFT TO ALL HUMANITY FOR ALL TIME

Below is the Epilogue “Tune Out, Turn Off, Unplug” in my book PHOTOGRAPH GOD: CREATING A SPIRITUAL BLOG OF YOUR LIFE http://photographgod.com: 



We can enjoy the technological wonders of our era knowing that we are free to tune out, turn off, and unplug on the next Shabbat.
Once a week turn off and unplug.   Put your cameras, computers, tablets and smartphones to sleep.  Just tune into God's creations, enjoy family and friends, walk in the forest and fields, watch the sunrise and sunset, play with your children and make love to your spouse.   

Adopt the formula instituted millennia ago to free the Israelites from their enslavement in Egypt to free you from the being enslaved by the ubiquitous digital technologies that too often rule all our waking hours.   The fourth of the Ten Commandments enjoins us to remember what it was to be a slave who never had a break from the repetitive sameness of everyday life (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).   Make every seventh day Shabbat, different from the other six days of the week.   Make it an Ecology Day by leaving the world the way we got it.  Make it a Non-art Day when we honor God's creations rather than ours.  

As the sun sets on Friday, my wife Miriam lights Shabbat candles, closes her eyes to her busy week, and blesses Is-Was-Will Be, sovereign of the universe, who bestows upon us a good and long life.   On opening her eyes, she sees calming candle light ushering in a day qualitatively different from all the other digital days of the week.   Until stars dot the sky Saturday night, she is invited to keep her eyes opened to everyday miracles of being.   

One day each week, stop doing, stop making, just enjoy being alive.  Delight in all that happens around you.  Don't seek out things to frame and shoot.  Let them be.     

Shabbat is a divine gift to all humanity for all time.   You are invited to observe Shabbat as a powerful way to free you from being enslaved by technological wizardry.  On the eighth day, return with renewed energies to being partners with God in the continuing creation.  Enjoy being immersed in the amazing technological wonders of our era knowing that you are free to tune out, turn off and unplug on the next Shabbat.

28 January 2016

The Tenth Commandment: Create Interactive Selfies at MIT

From The Times of Israel, January 28, 2016, http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-tenth-commandment-create-interactive-selfies-at-mit/


The fifth portion of Exodus, Yitro/Jethro, is read from the Torah scroll on Shabbat, January 30, 2016. In it is the first of the two biblical versions of the Ten Commandments, known in the Hebrew original as Assert Hadibrot, Ten Utterances rather than Commandments.  

This post explores the Tenth Utterance, not as a commandment, but as a reward for doing the other nine.  It begins with one of the 52 posts of the Torah Tweets blogart project that my wife Miriam and I created to celebrate our 52nd year of marriage. During each of the 52 weeks of our 52nd year, we posted photographs reflecting our life together with a text of tweets that relates the weekly Torah reading to our lives.  See how Miriam and I link the Torah portion Yitro/Jethro to our life together at http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.co.il/2014/01/exodus-5-contentment-with-our-lot.html.

We are now celebrating the 57th year of our honeymoon.  We moved from Petah Tikvah to a retirement community in Ra’anana four years ago.  It is our 17th home since we were married.   Since every Hebrew letter has a numerical equivalent (gematria), 17 is the gematria of tov, the word for “good.”  Miriam says that I see good in every one of the 17 places we lived and the jobs I had there – from being a science teacher on Long Island, a farmer at Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi in Israel, art professor at Columbia University  living in New Jersey,  MIT research fellow in Boston, head of the regional college in the Negev desert, dean at New World School of the Arts, University of Florida’s arts college in Miami, to professor of art and Jewish thought at Ariel University living in Petah Tikvah.           

Miriam and I discuss my weekly blog post in The Times of Israel that explores the Torah portion in relation to our Torah Tweets project updated with current events and changes in our life together as we enjoy our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The conceptual and spiritual background for my blog posts in The Times of Israel is developed in my new book PHOTOGRAPH GOD: CREATING A SPIRITUAL BLOG OF YOUR LIFE http://photographgod.com. 

EXODUS 5: CONTENTMENT WITH OUR LOT

Yitro/Jethro (Exodus 18:1-20:26)

“You shall not covet your neighbor's house.  You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or anything else that is your neighbor's.” (Exodus 20:14) 

The Torah obligates us to do things and not do others (positive and negative mitzvot), but rarely legislates thought.

The greatest reward is to be so content with one's own lot that even thinking of envying anyone else never enters one's mind.

In the first years of our marriage, Miriam was home with three children while Mel earned a pitifully small monthly salary as a teacher.

Before the days of credit cards, we often found ourselves broke by the fourth week of each month.

We ate leftovers and often bought a bottle of liqueur with our last $2 to celebrate our wonderful life together.


Half century later, we planned this blog posting in a coffee shop enjoying cafĂ© hafukh (upside-down coffee) and an apple-cheese tart. 

We continued our discussion walking in a park enjoying monkeys' antics and elderly women petting and feeding the park's feral cats.

When we returned home, our dog Snowball greeted us sitting beneath Mel's parents' wedding picture and ours.

BECOME RICH BY INVITING GOD TO BE YOUR PARTNER IN CREATION

“Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot, as is said: When you eat of the labor of your hands, you are praiseworthy and all is well with you.”  (Ethics of the Fathers/Pirkei Avot 4:1 and Psalms 128:2)

“On the seventh day, God finished all the work that he had done…. God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, for it was on this day that God ceased from all the work with he had been creating [for human beings to continue] making [on the eight day].” (Genesis 2:2-3)

Contentment with our lot is not passive.  As written in Psalm 128, it is active, emerging from the labor of your hands, from becoming God’s partner in creation.   
Each of the billions of people on Planet Earth is given a unique genetic endowment and set of opportunities that is one’s lot.  What you creatively do with your lot is what creates holiness and happiness. 

“If a man never creates, never brings into being anything new, anything original, then he cannot be holy unto his God.  That passive type who is derelict in fulfilling his task of creation cannot become holy.  Creating is the lowering of transcendence into the midst of our turbid, coarse, material world.” (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man)  

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

Kabbalah, the down-to-earth mystical tradition of Judaism, teaches ten stages in the creative process that bring Divine light down into our everyday life.   It is derived from two biblical passages:

“God spoke to Moses, saying: I have selected Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.  I have filled him with a Divine spirit [Crown/Keter], with Wisdom/Hokhmah, Understanding/Binah, and knowledge, and with the talents for all types of craftsmanship.” (Exodus 31:1-3)

“Yours God are the Compassion/Hesed, the Strength/Gevurah, the Beauty/Tiferet. The Success/Netzah, the Splendor/Hod and the [Foundation] of everything in heaven and earth [Kingdom/Malkhut].” (Chronicles 1:29)

These stages begin with Crown (1), a pre-cognitive realm of intention to create.  It represents the Divine will to create the universe before the Creation as well as a human being’s will to create something new.  This will to create is followed by Wisdom (2) and Understanding (3), the realm of mind experienced as insight and thought.  The next six stages, the realm of emotions, are Compassion (4), Strength (5), Beauty (6), Success (7), and Splendor (8).  The ninth stage, Foundation (9), funnels all the earlier eight earlier stages into the tenth stage, Kingdom (10), the realm of action, the place where everything is happening. 

CREATING INTERACTIVE BIOFEEDBACK SELFIES

I use these ten stages to analyze my creative process in my artwork Inside/Outside: P’nim/Panim, a biofeedback system for creating digital self-generated portraits that I created at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies.  The creative process that I describe provides a model for understanding your creative process.

Selfies emerged from the smartphone revolution.  I describe how I created an interactive selfie that shows changing facial expressions in conversation with inner emotions.   Inside/Outside:P’nim/Panim, a responsive artwork through which internal mind/body processes and one’s facial countenance engage in dialogue.   Participants in Inside/Outside: P’nim/Panim create a live feedback loop as they photograph themselves.

WISDOM FROM NOTHINGNESS

The first stage in the creative process is Crown – the will to create coupled with faith that one can create and anticipation that the creative process is pleasurable. Without this intention, self-confidence, and hope for gratification, the creative process has no beginning.

Crown sets the stage for Wisdom that requires a selfless state, nullification of the ego that opens gateways to supraconscious and subconscious realms.  When active seeking ceases, when consciously preoccupied with unrelated activities, when we least expect it, the germ of the creative idea bursts into our consciousness. This sudden flash of insight is what the kabbalah calls Wisdom. It is the transition from nothingness to being, from potential to the first moment of existence. In biblical words, “Wisdom shall be found in nothingness” (Job 28:12).

INTENTION TO INSIGHT

My process began in synagogue on the Sabbath day. I was absorbed in the rhythm of the chanting of words from the Torah scroll following them with my eyes. I was far removed from my studio/laboratory at MIT when I suddenly realized that the Hebrew words for face panim and for inside p’nim are written with the same Hebrew letters. This flash of awareness that outside and inside are linguistically one is the sudden transition from Crown to Wisdom, from intention to insight.     

When I told my son Ari what had just dawned on me, my mind left Wisdom for Understanding. The linguistic insight that ignited the process began to take form as an artwork in Understanding.  I sensed that I needed to create portraits in which dialogue between the outside face and inside feelings become integrated in a single artwork.

HARMONIOUS INTEGRATION OF OPENNESS AND CLOSURE

The first three stages of the creative process symbolize the artist’s intention to create and the cognitive dyad of Wisdom-Understanding in which a flash of insight begins to crystallize into a viable idea.

The fourth stage, Compassion, symbolizes largess, the stage in the creative process that is open to all possibilities, myriad attractive options that I would love to do. I thought of a multitude of artistic options opened to me for creating artworks that reveal interplay between inner consciousness and outer face. 

Compassion is counterbalanced by the fifth stage, Strength, restraint, the power to set limits, to make judgments, to have the discipline to choose between myriad options. It demands that I make hard choices about which paths to take and which options to abandon.  As an MIT research fellow with access to the most advanced electronic technologies, my mind gravitated to creating digital self-generated portraits in which internal mind/body processes and one’s facial countenance engage in dialogue through a biofeedback interface.

The balance between the affective dyad Compassion-Strength is the stage of Beauty.   As I felt satisfaction with my choice, I departed from Strength to the next stage, the sixth stage, Beauty, the aesthetic core of the creative process in which harmonious integration of openness and closure elicits an exquisite feeling.

ORCHESTRATING DRY PIXELS AND WET BIOMOLECULES

The seventh stage, Success, is the feeling of being victorious in the quest for significance. I felt that I had the power to overcome any obstacles that may stand in the way of realizing my artwork. I had the confidence that I could orchestrate all the aspects of creating a moist media artwork that would forge a vital dialogue between dry pixels and wet biomolecules, between digital imagery and human consciousness. The eighth stage, Splendor, is the splendid feeling that the final shaping of the idea is going so smoothly that it seems as effortless as the graceful movements of a skilled dancer.

CREATING A BIOFEEDBACK LOOP

The ninth stage, Foundation, is the sensuous bonding of Success and Splendor in a union that leads to the birth of the fully formed idea. It funnels the integrated flow of intention, thought, and emotion of the previous eight stages into the world of physical action, into the tenth stage of Kingdom, the noble realization of my concepts and feelings in the kingdom of time and space. It is my making the artwork.

INSIDE/OUTSIDE: P’NIM/PANIM

I constructed a console in which a participant seated in front of a monitor places her finger in a plethysmograph, a device that measures internal body states by monitoring blood flow, while under the gaze of a video camera.  Digitized information about her internal mind/body processes triggers changes in the image of herself that she sees on the monitor. She sees her face changing color, stretching, elongating, extending, rotating, or replicating in response to her feelings about seeing herself changing.  My artwork, Inside/Outside: P’nim/Panim, created a flowing digital feedback loop in which mind/body state p’nim effects changes in one’s face panim, and panim, in turn, effects changes in p’nim.  It creates living self-generated, interactive, digital selfies in the Kingdom of space and time.   It was installed in the LightsOROT: Spiritual Dimensions of the Electronic Age exhibition at Yeshiva University Museum in New York in 1988.