The penultimate chapter of Creative States of Mind by Patricia Townsend is about artistic work finally reaching the outside world, after a long period and process of creation described in the preceding chapters of the book.  When does the artist consider the work finished, do they consider it perfect, and what are their feelings as their work is ‘lost’?

The first question is about how does the artist know when to stop – when it’s time to go to an exhibition, a gallery or a private commissioner?  Susan Derges, a photographer, talks about the need for a piece of artwork to “move” her:

“At the very end, the way in which I evaluate what I’ve done . . . depends on whether I’m moved and convinced in a quite visceral or intuitive sense.  A piece of work might well do the job but if it doesn’t move me, I don’t use it; if it doesn’t speak to me on multiple levels then I’m not really interested in it . . . it has to be more than an intellectual statement.  It has to have the potential to be very much alive . . .”  (Derges in Townsend 2019: 100).

One of Townsend’s interviewees appears to take a more pragmatic approach:

“It’s at the point where you think I’d best leave this alone.  I think it’s as simple as that.  It has just reached some point of autonomy . . . where it can fend for itself, it doesn’t need me to do anything anymore.  And I think that . . . in some respects I’d be quite happy if I never saw something again . . . if it works.”  (Aiken in Townsend 2019: 100).

Here the artist speaks about the work having a sense of independence and an ability to stand on its own in the outside world.  An interesting comment from a photographer, Sian Bonnell is as follows:

“I have to actually kind of get out of myself and look at the stuff with a really open mind and be quite ruthless . . . I am just looking.  Letting go of my liking or closeness to it.  I have to detach myself.”  (Bonnell in Townsend 2019:  100).

I find these different perspectives as to how artists determine when they let go of their work very interesting.  In completing my last project, The Ephemeral Hiddenness of Skye, I found this aspect of the project the most difficult.  I found it extremely difficult to stop taking photographs as for me, there was always the opportunity of a better image around the corner, or on a different day.  I remember my tutor saying to me, about three months before hand in, that I had to stop taking photographs!  I wonder whether this is a particular issue when producing a body of work, for an exhibition as in my case, rather than producing a single commissioned piece?  There is always room for one more image!

I find the editing and curating similarly difficult.  I have always found it difficult to detach myself from images that for some reason have an emotional attachment for me.  Maybe I remember a beautiful day, an amazing wildlife sighting, or maybe, perhaps more likely for all sorts of reasons, it was an exceptional day – the birds were singing, the weather was glorious and the camera nestled in my hands as my mind disappeared into the essence of my subject.   Everything came together in an artistic moment that enabled me to lose myself in my own inner world and where, as Townsend describes, the inner and outer worlds collide.  For me, this is where Bonnell’s comment about being ruthless is very important.

It is also about going back to the beginning and reminding one’s self what you set out to do – going back to what Townsend described in Chapter 1 as the “pre-sense”.  Dryden Goodwin explains the moment where the project starts to come together:

“In terms of making a project . . . it’s interesting that kind of critical mass at the point where it seems to start to define itself, it seems to enable that to fulfil itself . . . that’s a really exciting moment.”  (Goodwin in Townsend 2019: 101).

In my experience, like Goodwin, there does come a point when everything comes together in my mind, and I feel happy with my work, my choices and the extent to which I have met my own, or someone else’s brief.

Townsend argues that there may be other moments when the project comes together – for example deciding upon how to exhibit the work, taking account of the particular space or coming up with the title for the project.  This process is iterative for me, and maybe this is necessary before the light-bulb moment Goodwin talks about signifies that the project is in its final stages.

I have found this chapter extremely interesting and deeply reassuring that artists, and particularly photographers all struggle with determining when a piece of work is complete and ready for its emergence into the world outside.



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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