The final chapter of Patricia Townsend’s book, Creative States of Mind, is entitled Recurring Themes.  Having reviewed the whole book over the past few weeks I am interested to hear what Townsend believes are the recurring themes.

She begins by referring to the ongoing nature of the artist’s work and its interconnectedness – that one piece of work or body of work has similarities with previous and future projects.  One of Townsend’s participants, Nina Rodin, in her research referred to this ongoing nature of artistic practice.

“The finished painting mostly just asks for the next painting.  There is no rest, there is no sense of that’s done, put a line under it . . .  There is still something that you haven’t quite touched on or you touch on something new that you hadn’t noticed before.”  (Rodin in Townsend 2019: 112).

Townsend sees this repetition or thematic strand in artwork as a function of the inchoate aspect of the artist’s inner world.  This is interesting to me as I develop my practice and consider my next major project.  Do I use the same subject matter, the reeds of Loch Cill Chriosd, on the basis that I have had some success in revealing the Ephemeral Hiddenness of Skye, or do I use a different vehicle to continue my quest?  If I use the reeds, will I be able to move to the next level of revelation in my search for the noumenal – the hidden reality that lies behind sensory experience.  Maybe I should try a new subject that might illicit a different response or emotion from my inner world?

Another, artist who was interviewed as part of Townsend’s research was Laura Malacart who spoke about the enduring and progressive nature of an artist’s work:

“A piece of work is a live thing that has the ability to regenerate itself with every experience, because we are different every time we go to it.  Having to look at it again, it made me realise something else – it made me look at it in a different.”  (Malacart in Townsend 2019: 113).

As I spend time in lockdown and have the luxury of reviewing my archive of images, I can certainly see how my photographic work has developed and evolved, not just within one genre, but, for example, from wildlife, to focusing on micro aspects of the landscape – however, there are also consistencies and themes such as a continual quest for the essence of an animal or a place.  A need to get behind literal representation to reveal something else.

For example, this image of a Proboscis Monkey, I like to think reveals an inner life through its eyes and expression, whereas the next image reveals something of the hidden life of Loch Cill Chriosd:

Proboscis Monkey, Borneo – Alison Price, July 2010

Reeds – Alison Price, August 2019

Townsend, through the words of some of her participants, suggests that certain works, or images in my case, represent a turning point or a further source of inspiration that yet investigated.    Jes Fomsgaard referred to a particular painting of this type as a ‘sourdough’ for future artworks:

“This work has elements and ideas that I don’t want to forget.  There are questions in this work, I still have to explore.”  (Fomsgaard in Townsend 2019: 114).

I love this description of a piece of work being a sourdough.  I think by this Fomsgaard is giving us the sense of an embryo, a seed, emerging and growing into something else.  It suggests unfinished ideas, an energy or flow still to be examined and developed.  Maybe, the piece of work might be showing elements of the artist’s inner world, not yet explored or understood, as suggested by Townsend’s use of the word inchoate above.

Townsend refers again to the work of psychoanalyst, D W Winnicott:

“In the artist of all kinds I think one can detect an inherent dilemma, which belongs to the co-existence of two trends, the urgent need to communicate and the still more urgent need not to be found.  This might account for the fact that we cannot conceive of an artist’s coming to the end of the task that occupies his whole nature.”  (Winnicott in Townsend 2019: 115).

This is very interesting, that the artist has a tension within of, on the one hand wishing to use their art as a means of communication, but on the other, making sure that their inner world must not be revealed.  For me, there is something else here and that is that even if we were minded to reveal our inner world, through our art, we can never know or reveal the whole picture of that world even to ourselves because as Townsend suggests this self-knowledge is an ongoing process.  And this is why our search as artists is infinite.

And finally, another question that requires further thought on my part.  If the camera looks both ways, as Freeman Patterson argues, then to what extent does the photographer have control to withhold their inner world?   I would argue that whilst a painter might have more control of what to reveal and not to reveal, through conscious mediation, the point at which the photographer presses the shutter is a less conscious moment, and can be activated by the revelation of the noumena.

Creative States of Mind:  Psychoanalysis and the Artist’s Process has been a fascinating read, and as I develop my research and photographic practice, I know I will return to some of the concepts and ideas that Townsend has identified.



PATTERSON, Freeman.  1977.  Photography for the Joy of It.  Toronto:  Van Nostrand Reinhold Ltd.

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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