Tag Archives: contexts

What do you see?

There are so many pieces being written about the lockdown, that I think it has all been said. But often I need to write to understand more about what is happening, as a way to think about it with socially distant but emotionally present others, so ….

The word ‘lockdown’, in its simplicity /crudity doesn’t come near to capturing the complexity of the situation. I want to try and think about contexts, a recurring theme in most of my writing about psychotherapy, and about perception.




One of the great attractions of sketching is the way it makes me look more closely at what is there. I assume I know what a pile of books looks like until I try to draw it, and discover that I need to look again and again as the shapes, tones, proportions, colours reveal themselves to me. We all make so many assumptions of ‘knowing’.

We knew, for example, that it wasn’t possible for most people to work from home: we knew that the local pub sold alcohol, not eggs, milk, and fresh vegetables: we knew that traffic and rush hour was unavoidable: we knew it was impossible for political decisions to be made quickly – and so on. But now we have to look again, ‘knowing’ and living it differently.



What I hope we can see more clearly, apart from the incompetence and arrogance of the government, is that the people we need to keep us alive and functioning are not the highly paid elite but the medics, nurses, carers, shop assistants, delivery people, refuse collectors, volunteers, neighbours – most of whom see little financial reward or recognition when times are ‘normal’. Then they are conveniently overlooked in a contemporary political/economic context where money goes to money. This distorting haze of ‘normality’ has been blown away to reveal how our society is largely sustained by its low paid and under valued members.

Our priorities have been reordered, or exposed. We see a capacity for compassion, co-operation, altruism, and neighbourliness. We discover a mutuality and interdependence that is ‘normally’  hard to recognise.

Being locked down has made us see the importance of being outside and discovering that the bird song is rapturous when it’s not drowned out by traffic. The countryside is recognised as a precious resource, at last. My neighbours, who have lived there for over thirty years, have never been out for a local walk before and tell me how lovely it is!

Getting outside is a privilege rather than a nuisance and we see things that we have never noticed before…and are in danger of losing.



We see too the sharp divides between those with space and gardens, online access,  food delivery systems and all those without. Lockdown hopefully enables a clearer vision of the inequalities and injustices of the ‘normal’, both nationally and globally. Even more hopefully, it might enable us to question and challenge the ‘normal’ political and financial decisions that sustain such inequalities – but we will see.

Back in my own version of this lockdown, there is little traffic, a lot of dog walks, friendly encounters at a distance, endless zoom meetings, online classes – and a sense of space and calm that is new. It has surprised me – I thought I already lived a calm life! I hadn’t appreciated the powerful influence of a context in which traffic, pollution, time and financial pressures, daily struggles getting to work or school, health inequalities and social hardship can shape and colour everyone’s existence. It’s obvious now I can see it!

But of course there is another layer. I wonder why I am not using this space to get on with my various printmaking projects, all very active before the lockdown began. I’ve kept up with the sketching – more than usual – but not printmaking. For me, printmaking is a long process, from making the plate, proofing, sorting paper, inking up, printing, to finally cleaning up. At a time where there is so much space and opportunity, I find I don’t have the patience.

A sketch can be done in 20 minutes, with no cleaning up. There’s some underlying anxiety that keeps me from concentrating for much longer than that. So living through a global pandemic turns out not to be so calm after all! This garden, this street may be quiet and peaceful, but the bigger context is awash with distress, panic, pain and helplessness. It washes through all of us and we cannot after all, shut our eyes to it.

Having our eyes open can reveal the wonder, beauty and compassion, and also the distress, cruelty and injustices around us. The worst outcome seems to me to get back to ‘normal’ and turn a blind eye to both.



Linking how you draw and the books that you read.

I’ve had some interesting feedback about the possible links between the books we like to read and how we draw. At my drawing class, struggling with the still life, I asked my two neighbours what sort of things they liked to read, and I could immediately see the connections. The careful and sensible collection of pots seemed to fit nicely with ‘Call the Midwife’, and a bold splat of shapes with ‘I’m dyslexic –  I only read magazine articles’. You may be sceptical – of course we all hear what we want to hear and see what we want to see. But I also asked Neil, the tutor, and it’s not too hard to join up his current reading – Haruki Murakami, magic realism – to these paintings, is it?

Then I visited one of my favourite blogs, ‘A Sketch for the Day’, and asked the artist what sort of books he read. He quite reasonably asked me to guess:  I see his sketches as very contained but full of narrative so, I went for short stories – and was right!

I was completely defeated by Norman Ackroyd though. I watched a BBC programme about him going out in a boat to sketch the northern most rocks off the Scottish coat – fantastic forms and tones, along with a great sense of space and wilderness.  Watching him at work translating these sketches into a copper plate etching, it was impossible to imagine that he ever picked up a book as he was so entirely engrossed in the landscape that he was recreating in the studio.

It’s important to challenge simple theories and connections, anyway.  They generate poor art, bad writing and threadbare therapy. Lives are far too complex, multidimensional, messy and unpredictable to describe in terms of simple links. One of my favourite psychoanalytic writers, the late Stephen Mitchell, talked about our lives as works of art.   I don’t have the direct quote, as I lost all of my books in a house fire 18 months ago, and haven’t replaced everything. But I described it like this in my own writing

Every stimulus or experience is fashioned and organised into a subjective world by an active organism. A self is created like any work of art, from the interplay between an imaginative process and available material such as relationships and contexts. The materials offer potential and constraints that the process must work with, but the product is more than the materials.