The act of making art takes considerable amounts of time and effort but Townsend argues that it often also involves play. She refers back to the work of Donald Winnicott, and whilst his work was with children, he does make clear that play should be universal and not just for the young. In his famous work Why Children Play (1942) he says:
“The repressed unconscious must be kept hidden, but the rest of the unconscious is something that each individual wants to get to know, and play, like dreams, serves the function of self-revelation.” (Winnicott in Townsend 2019: 59).
Townsend goes on to develop this idea by suggesting that creating new artwork we access the unconscious allowing the us to learn more about themselves. She describes her development of a piece of work attempting to depict the sea and mountains of a scene at Morecambe Bay playing with and merging texts.
I have a similar tale when I was experimenting with multiple exposure images on Loch Cill Chriosd. I had images in my head that almost had a dream-like quality and as I worked with combinations of shots in camera, I started to realise them through the wonders of my camera.
While doing my MA I was constantly encouraged to experiment, which looking back now, was an invitation to play with my camera in a way I had not done before.
Townsend has this to say about Winnicott’s view of play as follows:
“Winnicott sees play (and, by extension, artistic activity) as rooted in the ‘dream’. I understand ‘the dream’ to refer to ‘inner fantasy’ and ‘a sample of dream potential’ to be an aspect of internal fantasy that is to be elaborated in play. Considering the artist’s play in the light of this, the ‘objects or phenomena from external reality’ are the artist’s medium and subject matter.” (Townsend 2019: 65).
With a nod to her next chapter, Townsend ends Play and Playing with a quote from Joyce McDougall, a member of the Paris Psychoanalytical Society:
“Although both Freud and Winnicott advanced the notion that creativity involves playing, this must not be taken to mean that creative activity is carefree. On the contrary, creative or innovative activity of any kind is invariably associated with considerable violence and frequently arouses intense experience of anguish and guilt.” (McDougall in Townsend 2019: 67).
TOWNSEND, Patricia. 2019. Creative States of Mind: Psychoanalysis and the Artist’s Process. Abingdon: Routledge.