During the Covid lockdown and before I began my PhD I read a book by Patricia Townsend, Creative States of Mind.  Based on her own PhD, Townsend, an artist and psychoanalyst, discusses the artist’s process from the beginning of a creative idea through to the time when the piece of art is released into the outside world.  Her work is based on 33 interviews with professional artists whose words she uses to explain and develop her ideas and evidence her findings.  Townsend’s ideas interested me, particularly those relating to the artist’s state of mind.  And the words of practising artists about their state of mind, when they work, confirmed to me that there is something resembling a “zone” or “flow” when the conscious connection with the outside world is lost.  As Sian Bonnell explains:

“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).

George Meyrick also confirms the loss of connection with the outside world as follows:

“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).

These descriptions resonate with experiences that I have recounted in my thesis when time has stood still, and space has been reduced to a tiny part of the outside world in my viewfinder.  The Kantian constructs of space and time no longer exist for a period of time.  This experience of flow or “dwelling” as I refer to it, is a state of mind that, while not necessary to create work, is essential if I am to produce my very best images that have allure.  To lose awareness of the outside world is a pre-requisite to Being aware of Being.

As Dryden Goodwin reveals in an interview with Townsend, he relinquishes his schematic and systematic way of thinking to move into a different space which he refers to as a “pocket”.  Townsend reflects on Goodwin’s words as follows:

“. . . 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 in her analysis of Goodwin’s words to Marion Milner’s writing about “illusion” which Milner describes as a bringing together of inner and outer – a merging of the artist with their medium.  Milner’s words certainly describe the trance-like state that I enter when engaging with aspects of nature.  I too, am searching for the essence of my subject.

In these Thought Pieces, I attempt to summarise in six points (or five in this case) how and why this person’s work is relevant and important to my PhD:

  1. Townsend acknowledged in her research that the artist engages in a creative process which involved different states of mind.
  2. She has provided evidence from practising artists that support the sense of losing connection with the conscious world during the creative process.
  3. She refers to a sense of connection between the photographer (in this case Dryden Goodwin) and his subject such that the resultant artwork “will embody the essence” of the person being photographed.
  4. Townsend’s work refers to that of Marion Milner, a psychoanalyst, working across creative and scientific disciplines, who describes a fusing of the inner and the outer – the photographer and the camera.  My experience is that when I am at my most engaged with the creative process the camera becomes an extension of me.
  5. Townsend explains how she believes that the artist’s state of mind oscillates between the conscious and non-conscious and the practical and intuitive.

As I turn to reflect on those who have most inspired me during my PhD journey, I believe that Townsend was among those who provided me with examples of how the creative process might include drifting into a non-conscious state and her insights as a psychoanalyst provided me with the confidence that there was a path in artistic practice from attentiveness to awareness.


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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