This weekend I played host in my studio to a group from the Friends of the RSA who were visiting Orkney for a week. Quite apart from the well-timed need for a spot of tidying up, it was a pleasure to open my space to such an interested, curious, engaged group of people. It reminded me again how fortunate I am to have a dedicated workspace, right next to my house.

A ‘room of one’s own’ in which to think, read, write, make art, or just sit quietly is, as Virginia Woolf famously observed, a privilege that many are denied.

But what really goes on inside an artist’s studio, day to day?

Over on Instagram the wonderful project that is the #ArtistsSupportPledge, started by artist Matthew Burrows as a way for artists to support each other through lockdown, has now grown and evolved to now include #StudioInView.

Studio In View is a kind of rolling online open studio event, and it’s becoming a fascinating glimpse into artists’ workspaces up and down the country, spreading to other countries too. If, like me, you’re nosy about where and how artists practice their varied crafts I can recommend a scroll of the hashtag #studioinview (past the Florida real estate adverts that creep in)

There’s no denying that the artist’s ‘studio’ is a space that is culturally loaded. The studio is so tied to the identity of an ’artist’ that recent art college graduates sign up for costly rental spaces they can ill-afford, because without one they feel like they’re not really an ‘artist’.

I did the same myself for years and then felt perpetually guilty for not being able to spend much time there because of working in other jobs to pay the rent on it. Eventually, and with some reluctance, I gave it up. My creative practice adapted and survived. For nearly twenty years my ‘studio’ was a desk in the corner of my living room, supplemented periodically with whatever residency or gallery installation space came my way.

Quite apart from the financial drain of paying for a space you have to work at another job to pay for, the ‘studio’ has so much cultural baggage that can be a real encumbrance, no matter how much we might try to be freshly present to the work we do there.

The studio is, or should be, as one of my coaching clients recently suggested, ‘a place of encounter’.

What do we encounter? I think it’s the same as anywhere, same as outside, same as the rest of our life. Firstly, I think, it’s our self, the movements of our mood and mind that we encounter.

Secondly, it’s the material world as it presents itself to our senses.

What’s different in the ‘studio’ is the set of expectations, identities and possible or hoped-for outcomes that we bring with us, and the specific activities we undertake once we are there, activities that generally involve some direct dialogue with materials and processes. These can be a helpful focus and a positive habit, or they can become a straitjacket, a dead weight.

I have come to think that what is most important, however, is the frame of mind we bring to it all. Can we remain curious and interested, no matter what? When things go wrong, or we feel stale, or directionless, or anxious, can we just take a friendly interest in at all?

I very much like that the word ‘studio’ relates to ‘study’. The studio is a place of study and reflection. The page, too, is a space of study and reflection. The meditation cushion, or the yoga mat, or the mindfully attentive walk, are all potentially places of study. And I think that all we can ever really study is our own mind and how it rubs up against the world – both the world of our wider experience and the art ‘world’ we are creating in response to it.

Meditators talk about having a ‘support’, something the mind can keep coming back to. So while we might be focussing, say, on the breath, actually what we are studying isn’t the breath at all. It’s the mind that’s watching the breath that is the real object of study. But we can’t watch the mind because we don’t yet know what it is, so we have to observe it by other means.

I wonder if this is what we are really studying or encountering in the ‘studio’? The movements of our own mind?

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