Part 1, Project 3, exercise 1:2 – Mental mapping

I think this refers to what was originally about subjective physical mapping, mental representations of a geographical area. [cf this definition from the APA dictionary of psychology mental map – APA Dictionary of Psychology]. Psychologically, this might include mapping one’s perceived space in a given environment to understand something about how visible a person felt, or how much they felt they owned it. Latterly, it’s been much more about abstract conceptual material, ways of plotting ideas in non-hierarchical space. Tony Buzan, graduate psychologist and one of Mensa’s golden boys, was the originator and key proponent of this version. I met him on his Mind Mapping book tour.

mind mapping – Google Search

For something that, to me, feels disorganised and nebulous, it’s an odd product from a man who is an absolute organiser if his other brain training techniques – mnemonics, speed reading, perfect memory, and using both sides of the brain [which leans on the spurious notion (see Dawson, 2020) that the two halves function separately].

I’m glad to revisit this because it baffled me the first time round, then again when I saw a trainee making supervision notes in bubbles with a mass of interconnecting lines. This time I think I know why it throws me such that I revert to lists.

Academic history – school and all the social expectations around exercise books which included tidiness, coherence, clear handwriting (that’s gone!), and order would have been a strong determinant of organisational style. Later at university, the same principles applied but expectations regarding legibility and coherence concerned only the hand written essays.

Throughout this, because of it or in spite of it, I’ve brought information into my mind, ordered it, challenged it, interpreted and re-construed it by a form of internal story telling. Conversations with myself at times when there is little need to concentrate on anything else. Walking, for instance. Or doing the dishes. Anything mundane and top-brain liberating. Visualising plays a key role in that I ‘see’ the story and the elements of it although I’ve never brought those out into the real world other than in actual conversations. When my dad was struggling to understand my mother’s dementia, which was sub-cortical rather than of the more usual vascular or Alzheimer’s type, I remember suddenly seeing a massive traffic jam on the M25. Nothing could get off it and nothing could pass across. London was still there, I told him; and Birmingham and Edinburgh, Liverpool and Bradford; but nothing outside the M25 could get through to London or vice versa. My mother’s emotional memories and connections were trapped inside the M25 and cut off from the parts that retained her ability to remember who people were and what happened yesterday; it meant that nothing had any meaning for her. My dad had driven all his life for work, he got it.

I think my response to this task will be to elaborate those internal conversations and see how often I can add the visualisations that go with them. I tell those stories to myself to clarify my thinking, I wonder if I can make them more explicit without losing the fits and starts and spontaneity of them.

This is where I run up against an incompatibility, given the actual exercise is to map retrospectively the processes involved in exercises 1 and 1.2. This is partly because of the above discussion, the lack of meaning for me in mapping per se, but also because I feel I have described every twist, turn, twitch, wobble, and outcome in words and raw images in the relevant posts. The story is there and I have nothing to add. A prospective story would be a different matter, but then I think that’s also there. My ‘working in the margins’ isn’t in the margins because it’s part of the process and it matters. I don’t know the end of the story until I arrive.

The reading point for this exercise is an extract from Fisher and Fortnum’s On not knowing: how artists think, but I haven’t been able to access it as the link to the pdf is not active. The abstract from the book says this:

This title brings together contemporary artists and thinkers form a range of disciplines to explore the role of ‘not knowing’ within the creative process. The state of ‘not knowing’ or engaging with the unknown is an important aspect of all research. For artists it is crucial, as the making process often balances a strong sense of direction with a more playful or meditative state of exploration and experimentation.”

And, with the odd caveat, I can agree with the principles because, while there is generally a known start point, a series of choices that are not entirely random or unknowable to the chooser, the end result may not be formed, even in part. In the world of literature there are what’s called Planners and Pantzers; the first being the writers who have every detail of the story, plot, and characters pinned down in spreadsheets or on post-it notes (remember I May Destroy You? Written by and starring Michaela Cole? All those post-its on the wall over her bed. I was pretty sure the whole series was a try-out of different scenes and plot twists. None of it happened. You?). Pantzers – those are the seat-of-the-pants writers who start with a vague idea and then just follow the words with no clue as to where it will end up.

And that’s me; I’m a pantzer so it should not have surprised me to find myself doing the same thing here. And this matters because it plugs into that rather nebulous notion of not knowing, which if we’re not careful, can look a lot like blind ignorance. It isn’t, not in my view; it’s a carefully cultivated mind set in which improvisation within the prevailing physical parameters can happen. I find this liberating although I have to say, only where there is ultimately more structure and meaning than I see in much abstract work. Communication is front and centre for me, I don’t want viewers to struggle so much they can’t be bothered, I want to engage people who don’t go to galleries because they think they’re for ‘the arty farties.’

Buzan, T. 1995. Mind Mapping. BBC Bites version 2006.

Dawson, E. 2020. Forget the right vs left myth: you’re whole-brained. Ohio State University. [online] Accessed 2nd May 2021 Forget the right vs. left myth: You’re whole-brained | Ohio State Medical Center ( This is a clear explainer from a specialist in the field.

I May Destroy You. 2020. BBC drama written and starring Michaela Cole.

Fisher, E. and Fortnum, R. 2013. On Not Knowing: how artists think. Black Dog Publishing. Course notes refer to the pdf extract as comprising p 25 and p 70.

Mental representation is a more sophisticated concept than I’ve presented here. It describes the way people are able to mentalise a scene in order to understand it, to see the perspective of another person, and to manipulate ideas towards a solution. Pinker in The Language Instinct, 1994, says that writing ‘translates mentalese into words and vice versa … in order to make images in the minds of others’. He expands on this idea in his later book, The Sense of Style (2014), talking about how this is ‘the way in which one mind can cause ideas to happen in another mind’. If words can do that, how much more efficient at it must art be?

Pinker, S. 1994. The Language Instinct. Penguin Press.

Pinker, S. 2014. The Sense of Style. Penguin Export.

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