Linder is an artist perhaps best known for her collages of the punk era in the mid 1970s.

Tate Debate Banner image

On Sunday 27 Dec she will be giving a talk in the Barbara Hepworth Garden in St Ives, and she’s written a short piece on the Tate Blog about her first experience of the garden. One passage struck me as particularly interesting:

“We were reminded that for Hepworth, her left hand was her thinking hand and her right only a motor hand. This reminded me of the string musicians that I’d worked with earlier in the day, their left hands finding the shapes of chord and melody, whilst their right hands bowed or strummed repeatedly.”

I was drawn to the idea that Hepworth and Linder had found a way to express that feeling that we may all have at sometime, that certain actions or movements free up our thinking. Doodling on a pad while you talk to someone might not always be a sign that you’re not interested in the discussion, but instead that you are visually, and crucially, physically also processing the information. You hear of writers who cannot compose except in longhand, or conversely others who find that the act of typing, because it uses both hands, allows them to think more freely. So for this week’s Tate Debate, we ask, how important is physical action in your thinking about or expression of a creative idea?


M.K. Hajdin

I often get ideas when I'm doing the dishes. I still hate doing the dishes though.

I'm intrigued by this topic; I keep coming back to see what other people have said.

M.K. Hajdin

If I forget to get enough exercise that day, or put enough swing into my arm when I paint, it really shows in the brushtroke. The brushstroke is a gesture captured on paper, so it shows exactly what we are feeling at the time we make it - whether emotionally or physically. The Japanese painters would practice the movements of painting by making gestures in the air, without putting brush to canvas. I have done this myself and found it really useful.


I think physical action is a part of language. When we express something, it is poor that we use oral language. That's why physical action is important.

Al Greenall

Incredibly important, to the extent that works are not realizable without the knowledge that the physical act of painting and mark making will channel thoughts and ideas. With De Kooning in mind - and by current extension the poignant physical parody of Paul McCarthy's The Painter - any painter who treads a path that tackles the objectivity of paint itself is bound to relying heavily on their own bodily proportions and capabilities. No matter how far one pushes thoughts, or tries to do one thing or another, the moments that find the body actually expelling or performing these impulses will cast them in reality in a way unfamiliar and alien to it's maker, and the challenge is to accord the mental with the results of the physical - tracking the 'idea' as it joins these poles together.

Physicality in painting lends a way of discovering to making a picture too. Just as another body may dig, or swim, or build, or dance, the painter's moving body is what affords the eye, and of course the mind, to see a developing work from a variety of angles, to squint this way and that, to imagine how the way ahead may look.

Ranging around a canvas like Pollock gives some omnidirectional understanding of how marks and materials relate to one another away from - or in spite of - the intentions of the artist. Lifting, tipping, tilting, and rotating the paper or canvas also changes the way things seem, rearranges ones priorities, lets the process of questioning ones intentions develop more deeply and profoundly.

I could go Kirstie, but I'll stop, and if you like my work and what I've said just let me know and I'll respond more fully. As you'll see, I have made your premise an integral part of my work over the years, and I'm sure others will have done the same. Best wishes for the debate, hope it is successful!

Al Greenall.

Chris V

Physical action is the link between every artistic expression for me. When I paint or draw or whatever, I have to move to find what I need because objects are calling me all the time. I think I decide but it's not true; I'm just a moving machine. Atoms do what they want, don't they?

Bill Psarras

Physical action through the walking as art practice constitutes an important field for my as an artist. It is the clarity that gradually comes through the various stimuli of the urban environment which has lots of relations to what Situationists International called "derive" (psychogeography) and what modern new media artists mapping through various types of maps. For me and my practice, it is the combination of rhythmicity, walking process and ambience of the locations that may create a kind of an esoteric 'real-time montage'. Best

Bill Psarras

Anna Schulze-Wenck

Physical action is important for me. Staying in my office chair for a week leads to not feeling connected with my body anymore. If I don´t love myself it is tough to do what I love - photography. It clears my mind to work out, a ride on a bike, a walk through the woods inspires me and takes my thoughts to a higher level.


I find I draw, sculpt, paint, HAVE IDEAS best when I've been occupying a part of my brain with a physical activity - baking a cake being a particular winner. It's as though tackling this sort of known, familiar physical process frees up my brain, allows ideas that are in my peripheral vision to come into view. It takes away efforting. Creative work always flows much more easily when I've baked. Weird, but true.

M.K. Hajdin

Yes, the atoms have a will of their own. I liked your comment.

Radiance Strathdee

I was struck by the division set up by the question. If you regard thought as a physical action but along a spectrum. When I swim I feel I reduce sensory perception to a narrow range and find this, almost meditative state, allows free thought. Walking too, can have the same effect. Is repetition part of that process - automation reducing intererence? Enough!