The Space Between Thoughts

8 Apr



‘It’s not about taking photographs, it’s about thinking about photography. The more photographs you take the less you think’ [my emphasis] 

(Jan Dibbets, Modern Painters Magazine, March 2013, p29)

Perhaps you should stop thinking then and start knowing’ 

(CJ. Sullivan Wings of the Divided, p11)


About two years ago I decided to buy a swing and hang it from the large Horse Chestnut tree I have in my back garden. I bought it for two reasons: 1. because it was on that exact tree that my grandfather slung a similar swing for me when I was a child and I’m a sentimental sort; and 2. because I wanted to have something physical in my life that would remind me of what it’s like to be in transit and how okay that is. Swinging to and fro. So when I feel I’m doing too much or I’m caught in ‘doing’ (the processing), I trot down to my swing and rest in between the push-pull. The movement catches my thoughts and I become unstuck in the space in-between. The natural dynamic of this space  seems to allow for the seeds of  creativity to  be sewn

– in the space that’s left between the up and the down.

Dibbet says, ‘it’s not about taking photographs it’s about thinking about photography’ [my emphases] There’s a huge difference. One is about outcomes and the other is rooted in what lies before the outcome and what powers the engine of our production-and coats the delicate fronds of our intent to create. We disconnect all too easily when we produce  instead of  giving ourselves space to feed what drives that actual act of creating. Knowing what matters to us and moving within that, so there is a reserve of explored self-knowledge, awareness  and experience that acknowledges a world in flux and  from which we can draw. A kind of faith of sorts that doesn’t take and doesn’t amass.

Yesterday, for the first time in a while, I went down to the bottom of the garden to my ropey-tree swing and swung for a bit. It was a beautiful day, the sun was out  and the rays were dancing off the bare branches and as I moved back and forth I could feel myself disengaging from the flurry of my mind and getting caught in what can only be described as my own space in transit.  In that space appeared new ideas and little glimpses of  parts of me that I sometimes shun,. or fragments that I can hand-heart, 100% identify as creative ‘me’. More importantly within the space of the up swing and  the down swing there is also a place for ‘don’t know’, for uncertainty. Too blurry to see……..yet.  

I think there are parts of our creative lives, hopes and dreams that maybe we don’t need to see yet (or maybe never). As the Libyian writer  Hisham Matar states ‘In our own stories there are always things we don’t know’ *. But unless we value the in-between space we’ll never know that we know that we don’t know. 

I hope- I’m making sense.

Knowledge is what we accumulate when we think. It’s a possession of thoughts which isn’t necessarily concrete and easily definable. Knowledge can be knowing that we don’t know and that is equally important to our creativity as we create and when we create and after we create.  When we ‘do’ too much we get confused:

  • We confuse doing with knowledge
  • We favour thinking over knowing (that deep gut feeling…faith)
  • We confuse experience with thought
  • We confuse worry with reality
  • And foreground reality as what matters instead of our creative hopes and dreams.

This is what can happen if you don’t allow yourself the grace to move within the spaces between things. For this is where nurturing faith in our creative abilities lies. Oft times we confuse processing with thinking, we confuse ruminating for thinking. Creatives get caught in ‘stuff’ and that’s ok because it’s then through a process of unpicking (if we have the courage to do so) that we know who we are as artists and as human beings.

If  we allow ourselves to swing – ‘to and fro’ -then we can see that experience is:

never limited, and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility a kind of huge spider-web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness, and catching every airborne particle in its tissue. It is the very atmosphere of the mind; and when the mind is imaginative-much more when it happens to be that man of genius- it takes itself the faintest hints of life, it converts the very pulses of air into revelations.

(Henry James, from The Modern Psychological Novel, Leon Edel)

That’s what a bit of swinging can do for you. 


* For the interview with Hisham Matar see:

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