THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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Sound and moving images from the British Library

Introduction

Discover more about the British Library's 6 million sound recordings and the access we provide to thousands of moving images. Comments and feedback are welcomed. Read more

20 February 2019

Creative States of Mind: a new collection of interviews exploring artists and the creative process

Artist Patricia Townsend writes about her collection, 'Interviews exploring artists and the creative process', recently deposited and made available at the British Library.

What does it feel like to be an artist? Are there common threads between the experiences of individual artists or does each artist work in his or her own idiosyncratic way?

As an artist myself, I began to think about what happens in my mind as I create new artworks and to wonder whether my experiences are shared by others. Do other artists also begin with a vague intimation of what they want their subject to be, but with little sense of what form the potential artwork might take? Do they also sometimes have the experience of an idea for a new work bursting suddenly and unexpectedly into their minds? And if so, do they, like me, initially feel a sense of elation as if the new idea is perfect even though they know from experience that sooner or later (and usually sooner) this elation will evaporate and the idea won’t seem so wonderful after all? I set out to explore these questions and more in a series of interviews with professional artists working in a variety of media. These interviews, many of which are now archived in the British Library, formed the basis of my research for a PhD at the Slade School of Fine Art and for the book ‘Creative States of Mind: Psychoanalysis and the Artist’s Process’ (Routledge 2019).

BookCover

When I began this project I didn’t know whether the artists I interviewed would be able to put their experiences into words. After all, I was speaking to visual artists who have deliberately chosen a non-verbal medium in which to express themselves. Many of them were accustomed to being asked about their material processes and their motivations but I was asking them to talk about how it feels to make a work of art, something they might not have considered in depth before. Would it be possible to express this verbally? If the answer had been no, my whole project would have fallen flat, but as it turned out I needn’t have worried. Many of the artists were wonderfully articulate, often finding poetic images that vividly conveyed the qualities of their experiences. For instance, painter Hughie O’Donoghue used the metaphors of archeological digs and of dredging to describe his process of unearthing something from the subconscious as he paints:

Hughie O'Donohue interviewed by Patricia Townsend (C1801/17)

This recording adds another dimension to the understanding of O’Donoghue’s work that we might not have gained through the written word alone. His reflective way of speaking mirrors his deeply thoughtful engagement with his developing painting.

Another example is provided by photographer Sian Bonnell who describes how it feels to be immersed in her work, even to the point of making herself ill:

Sian Bonnell interviewed by Patricia Townsend (C1801/03)

This recording takes us, as listeners, inside this artist’s experience. Through the way in which Bonnell speaks, as much as through her language, we get a feel for the intensity of the state of mind she is in.

These examples attest to the individuality of each artist’s experience. And yet, the interviews reveal many shared threads too. O’Donoghue speaks of his painting as acquiring ‘some kind of life’ through his work on it. A number of other interviewees also speak of a point in their process when their developing artwork begins to come to life. And the state of complete absorption described so vividly by Bonnell is also referred to by many other artists, each of whom finds his or her own particular way to convey the quality of the experience.

In conducting the interviews, I wanted to find out whether there would be enough common threads in the artists’ accounts to enable me to trace the journey from the artist’s first inkling that he or she is onto something, through the artist’s work with a medium to the completion of the artwork and its launch into the outside world. It seemed clear to me that the making of a work of art involves unconscious as well as conscious processes but, of course, neither I nor the artists I interviewed could provide information about processes that are out of our awareness. Therefore I looked to psychoanalytic theory to try to fill the inevitable gaps and to shed light on the artists’ narratives. But in the interviews I was not attempting to analyse the artists as individuals (something that psychoanalysis has been accused of in the past). Rather I wanted to use psychoanalytic theory to analyse the creative process through factors in common across many interviews. This is what I aimed to do in the book ‘Creative States of Mind; Psychoanalysis and the Artist’s Process’.

It was a great privilege to have the opportunity to interview these artists and each encounter gave me enormous pleasure. I am delighted that 25 recordings are now available through the British Library so that others can hear the voices of these remarkable artists for themselves.

Patricia Townsend
www.patriciatownsend.net
www.routledge.com/9780367146160

To find 'Interviews exploring artists and the creative process' search C1801 at sami.bl.uk. For other collections of oral history interviews with artists, sculptors, craftspeople, theatre designers, photographers, and fashion designers explore our collection guide to Oral histories of visual arts and crafts.

18 February 2019

Recording of the week: croggy or backy?

This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

Sadly, despite growing up in Yorkshire and the West Midlands in the 1970s, I never owned a Chopper, although I certainly remember the thrill of a croggy [= ‘shared ride on handlebars of bicycle’] on my mate’s bike (including the obligatory football cards and lollipop sticks attached to the spokes). Online debate about the relative merits of croggy versus backy [= ‘shared ride on back of bicycle’] are numerous and invariably focus on the potential dialectal (i.e. geographical) preference for one or other variant. Curiously, these virtual discussions seem particularly animated on Teesside, where a third variant – tan – also exists, but submissions to the Library’s WordBank, a crowdsourced collection created in 2010/11 by visitors to the Evolving English exhibition, suggest croggy resonates particularly strongly with many contributors.

CROGGY [Middlesbrough C1442/6650]

CROGGY [Peterborough C1442/4353]

CROGGY [London C1442/3192]

CROGGY

The form croggy arises by taking the first segment of the word, crossbar, changing the final consonant <s> to <g>, and adding the suffix <-y>; thus crossbar → cross → crog → croggy. This brilliantly playful hypocorism is a popular productive process in some British dialects, in which an underlying polysyllabic word containing a medial <-s-> (or <-st->) sound mutates to a <g> (or <k>) sound and the final syllable is replaced by the suffix <-y> (or <-ie>). The most widespread analogous form is probably plastic → placky, although there are other examples and the phenomenon is perhaps particularly common in adolescent speech. I certainly have very fond childhood memories of winters praying we would have enough snow to go plackybagging [= ‘sledging on a plastic bag/bin liner’] and I always kept a lacky band [= ‘elastic band’] in my school blazer pocket to fire paper pellets with.

As this type of linguistic creativity is restricted to very informal speech it is seldom documented in conventional dictionaries, although the New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2006) has an entry for plaggy [= ‘plastic’] and The Lore of the Playground (Roud, 2010) includes laggies as one of several regional variants for 'French skipping' (i.e. skipping with a long elastic band round one's legs rather than with a skipping rope). Collins Dictionary categorises croggy as ‘Northern England and Midlands dialect’, while The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang (Thorne, 2014) classifies croggie as ‘schoolchildren’s slang’, thereby implying, I suspect, a somewhat wider (geographic) distribution, which is supported by our WordBank data. The advent of social media offers far greater prominence to this kind of vernacular language and so, not surprisingly, croggy/croggie has several entries at Urban Dictionary (which also includes lacky band [= ‘elastic band’] and (like its counterparts, backy/backie and tan) warrants its own hashtag (#croggy and #croggie) on Twitter. A university friend from Newcastle once uttered my favourite ever example of this process: fantackerbacker [= ‘fantastic’], which kind of sums it up in a nutshell, really.

Follow @VoicesofEnglish and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

15 February 2019

Andrea Levy

We’re sad to hear of the death of novelist Andrea Levy who passed away yesterday, aged 62.

Andrea grew up in north London, the daughter of Jamaican-born Winston and Amy Levy. She attended Highbury Hill Grammar School before studying textile design at Middlesex Polytechnic. After working as a costume assistant at The Royal Opera House and the BBC she began to attend a writers’ class at City Lit and published her first novel, Every Light in the House Burnin’, in 1994. Today she is best known for the award-winning Small Island and The Long Song.

In 2014, Andrea agreed to make a recording for Authors’ Lives which will be made available to listeners in the weeks to come. She was at that time living with the knowledge that she had a life-limiting illness.

With typical courage and eloquence, she ended her Authors’ Lives recording by reflecting on mortality, and the impact she hoped her books might have had in the world:

‘Everybody dies, and everybody knows they’re going to die. But while other people have it in the back of their heads, I have it here, right in front of my face: I see it and I know it.

But in the meantime I’m fit and well and I’m loving life. There’s a certain freedom that comes from knowing that this is the time you’ve got, and every minute is going to be dedicated to what you want to do because you really don’t have long. If you can go day by day, there’s some sort of release in it.

[Living with cancer] is a process of forgetting and never forgetting that you have to do at one and the same time: I never forget, but I just get on with it. I’ve had a very good life, I’ve loved it. I’ve worked hard and produced some good work I think, and the confidence I have now is because of writing: because I was able to quietly, in my own time and my own way, to show my worth.

I hope my books have a life beyond me. I hope I made a contribution to something, to the end of racism and the coming equality. I hope that the life that I’ve lived goes some way to make things easier. That’s the only posterity.’

Sarah O’Reilly, Interviewer, Authors’ Lives