The work on my thesis is running to plan and my thoughts are starting to turn to preparation for my viva voce examination and how I might best prepare. I have come up with the idea, on the beach, that I will write some short but focused pieces about some of the practitioners and thinkers that have influenced my practice-led journey and use the process as a means to be clear, concise, and insightful in my thinking. I will call them Thought Piece – Inspiration and Reflections on . . .
As I was thinking about those who had inspired and influenced me, my mind immediately turned to Nan Shepherd and while not an artist or photographer, her words were never far from my mind as I tramped the tracks and byways of Skye. As is the case with those most influential to your practice, the more I read The Living Mountain (Shepherd 1977) the more of what she had written nearly a century ago became relevant and as I read her words I was struck by the similarities between my practice and her approach, method and lifeworld. I will keep the points I want to make about Shepherd to six:
My second reading of her book in the very early days of my PhD provided me with the impetus and inspiration to take a leap in the dark and seek awareness of the Being of another.
- She used meticulous attention and knowledge of the natural world and the location about which she wrote as a gateway to Being.
- She used her practice of going out to allow reflections of the outer landscape to gain access to “the inner landscapes of the spirit” (Macfarlane in Shepherd, 1977 pxxi) and to what she called an “accession of interiority” – which I consider as Being (Shepherd, 1977 pxxi).
- Her use of the word interiority is important to me both in terms of the inner life of the forest for example as well as my search for Being aware of Being.
- She speaks of a trance-like experience when “the body is keyed to its highest potential” (Shepherd 1977, p107) which for me resembles those moments of non-conscious creative flow – the fusing of the outer and inner soul.
- Her ability to use and respond to all of her senses in the landscape has served as an inspiration to me to develop my skills beyond the visual, through drawing and writing.
- Her writing style is such that she shares everything she experiences in nature in a way that others can imagine. The intensity of her senses contributes to an understated and quiet poem of love for the mountain.
While there are many that I will write about here in future Thought Pieces, none has been more inspirational than Nan Shepherd. Her book remains on my desk at all times, and I often read parts of it as I attempt to think about my practice and research.
Shepherd, N. (1977). The Living Mountain. Edinburgh, Canongate Books.