You will recall that I have been reading Creative States of Mind, Psychoanalysis and the Artist’s Process by Patricia Townsend and this is a summary of my thoughts and ideas on Chapter 3, Illumination and the Idea.

Townsend refers to the philosopher Michael Polanyi, who in his book, Personal Knowledge, talks of the process of illumination as being a leap across a gap to the idea, from the period Townsend refers to as preparation, research and gestation.  Her own experience and that of those she interviewed often recounted an epiphany, something that came to them in a flash.  Often this moment comes, not out of rational thought or logical reasoning, and is often unexpected.  Townsend describes her own experience as follows:

“On my solitary trips to the Bay I felt myself to be in a particular state of mind.  It was as if I was in a bubble of time, a space of my own, in which I could detach myself from the concerns of everyday life.  I was in a state in which I was highly tuned to elements in the landscape that seemed to resonate with something in me.  On this particular evening I found something unexpected.  A small spring of water emerged from underneath the sands, danced before my eyes, reflection the setting sun, and then disappeared beneath the ground again, only to re-emerge moments later.  I was immediately captivated by the sight as if it was exactly this phenomenon that I had been waiting for without knowing it.” (Townsend 2019: 29).

I remember a similar occurrence on the shores of Loch Cill Chriosd.  I had been attracted to this tiny loch for a long time and every time I retraced my journey along the road to Elgol I felt compelled to stop and take some photographs.

Loch Cill Chriosd, Isle of Skye – Alison Price, 2016

However, on a particular occasion in autumn 2018, I realised that it was not the more general landscape that attracted me, beautiful though it was, but the fragile stems of the reeds, and the reflections and patterns they created through the movement on the surface of the water.

Reeds 1 – Alison Price, 2018

Reeds 2 – Alison Price, 2018

These are a couple more of my early images presented in monochrome to emphasise the focus on shape and form.

Reeds 3 – Alison Price, 2018

Reeds 4 – Alison Price, 2018

A number of artists in Townsend’s book speak of a sense of wonder and elation at the point when the idea is born.  Christopher Bollas argues that ideas such as these are provided with a safe space in the receptive unconscious where conscious judgement is withdrawn.  Townsend speaks of a marriage of the idea with an inner experience which in a sense gives it that idealised status.  She argues that many ideas are generated after an extended period of gestation and research, often in a moment of relaxation.  It is certainly the case for me that my best ideas for new work occur not in intensive work periods but rather when I am reflecting on what I have read, or worked on in my photography. Simon Faithfull, one of Townsend’s interviewees, refers to two states of mind in which ideas emerge: non-structured states (which might include dreaming or the period shortly afterwards) and in extremes (where the individual is in a pressurised environment or state).

For others, an idea takes shape through experimentation, rather than stemming from a single idea.  I have certainly experienced this as I worked on the reeds in the loch.  I used different practices to depict the reeds in different ways to try to reveal the essence of Skye.  These are a series of images I created towards the end of my project where I was trying to create more luminosity and depth in my work.

Reeds 5 – Alison Price, 2019

Reeds 6 – Alison Price, 2018

Reeds 7 – Alison Price, 2018

Reeds 8 – Alison Price, 2018

In conclusion, no epiphany moments in this chapter for me but nonetheless it helps me to put together the creative process in my mind as I continue on through Townsend’s book.


TOWNSEND, Patricia.  2019.  Creative States of Mind:  Psychoanalysis and the Artist’s Process.  Abingdon: Routledge.

Alison Price

Alison Price

My name is Alison Price and for the past ten years I have travelled the world photographing wildlife, including Alaska, Antarctica, Borneo, Botswana, the Canadian Arctic, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
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