A Life of its Own: the relationship between artist, idea and artwork

Patricia Townsend


In this paper I draw on interviews with thirty professional artists to explore the states of mind experienced by artists as they make new artworks. An analysis of the interviews suggests that the artistic process may be considered in terms of stages and I have termed these ‘genesis’ (referring to the conception, gestation and birth of an idea for a new work), ‘development’ (referring to the relationship between artist and nascent artwork as the artist engages with her medium) and ‘separation’ (referring to the release of the artwork into the outside world, usually in an exhibition). In viewing the artistic process in this way, I draw a parallel between the relationship between mother (or care-giver) and child and the relationship between artist and artwork. In common parlance, people may speak of their creations, artistic or otherwise, as ‘my baby’ and may experience feelings of loss or relief when these projects are completed, as if the ‘baby’ has grown up and left home. In this paper, I take this idea further to suggest that the psychoanalytic literature pertaining to the mother/child relationship, especially as put forward by psychoanalysts of the British Object Relations school, can shed light on artists’ processes and the states of mind they experience. I draw on the work of D.W. Winnicott, Marion Milner, Christopher Bollas and others to explore the extent to which the mother/child metaphor offers a new way of understanding artists’ experiences.


art; psychoanalysis; creativity; process; mother/infant

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1234/fa.v0i65.94

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