Townsend recently completed a PhD at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College, London. Her work is based on interviews with 33 professional artists where they reflect upon their practice and how they create new work. The book, in its structure, takes the reader through the creative process from the pre-sense (as Townsend terms it) through to “Out into the world” – so from start to finish. It was suggested that I should start with the chapter entitled the artist’s state of mind which like all of them is a relatively short and readable chunk.
One of Townsend’s interviewees, George Meyrick spoke about his state of mind when working in a creative medium:
“You’re buried in what you’re doing. The outside world doesn’t intrude. It just makes a big difference that you are not disturbed by other thoughts coming through.” (Meyrick in Townsend 2019:49).
Meyrick reveals here a need to be free from distraction and intrusion. Townsend refers to other interviews such as the one with Sian Bonnell in which she describes her state of mind:
“Whenever I make my work, when I do get into it, I do go into this strange place which sounds a bit odd but it’s almost trancelike.” . . . “If I’m in a really good zone it’s right in there, it’s all about my real innermost me.” (Bonnell in Townsend 2019:50).
Both of these descriptions resonate with how I feel, and the state of mind I need to get into, if I am to be at my most creative, and can produce my best work. I find it easy to recognise when I am in the zone and equally, I quickly feel disappointed if I cannot find it on a particular day.
These personal descriptions remind me of some reading I did in my Final Major Project research in a book entitled Drive by Daniel Pink. He talked about a need to find flow and being able to stop and assess whether you are in the zone, as Bonnell puts it. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist first coined the term “flow”. He speaks of being in the moment, losing reflective self-consciousness, and the individual having a personal agency or control of the activity they are involved in. Townsend suggests that Bonnell goes further in her interview saying that:
“her medium allows her to translate her ‘innermost me’ into the artwork.” (Townsend 2019:50).
Another of Townsend’s interviewees, Dryden Goodwin, reveals that in order to enter the zone or flow, he needs to relinquish his schematic way of thinking and needs to move into a space he terms a “pocket’:
“. . . What’s very schematic, very structural in its approach is then set aside as you become involved in that pocket you’ve created to lose yourself in the activity.” (Goodwin in Townsend 2019:50).
I am fascinated to learn that Goodwin is a photographer. Townsend in her assessment of his words suggests that Goodwin finds the two-dimensional form of a photograph in some way, excludes him. He wants to get inside and be enveloped or absorbed in the space/time moment of the image. Townsend describes this process as follows:
“He [Goodwin] says that he is no longer self-conscious, by which I understand him to mean that his consciousness of himself as a person separate from the individual in the photograph is in abeyance. He bridges the gap (in fantasy) between himself and the person photographed in order to attempt to create an artwork that will embody the essence of this person as he experiences it.” (Townsend 2019:52).
Townsend refers to Marion Milner’s writing about “illusion” – a bringing together of inner and outer – a merging of the artist and their medium. I have written before about when I am at my most creative and produce my best work, the camera feels like an extension of me. Also referring back to Townsend’s assessment of Goodwin’s state of mind, I believe that I enter a similar trance-like state and connect in a significant way with the aspects of nature I am photographing. Like Goodwin, I am seeking the essence of my subject.
Townsend goes on to explore the notion of the individual oscillating between different states of mind – conscious to non-conscious, practical to intuitive. Again, I relate to this idea of being able to work at two levels. For me, this is why your craft and the use of the camera, in my case, must be highly developed in order that your choices and decisions are intuitive and do not require you to return to a conscious state to produce that moment, the photograph.
PINK, Daniel H. 2010. Drive. Edinburgh: Canongate Books.
TOWNSEND, Patricia. 2019. Creative States of Mind: Psychoanalysis and the Artist’s Process. Abingdon: Routledge.