Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Committing to Play

It is a commonly held idea that giving ourselves time to just play, to experiment without a particular goal or expected outcome, is important to making art. [It may be important to living a healthy life, generally, as well]. But many of us, through cultural conditioning, have a hard time with this. If we know it is good for us, then maybe that makes it easier. What are your experiences with play as it pertains to your art practice or to your life?

I feel that my art practice is a some kind of pivot point: there is some Old Stuff I am shedding, stuff I no longer feel compelled to work towards, and I'm excited to explore New Stuff. Though the idea is a bit amorphous at the moment, the thing I feel like chasing is PLAY. Creative play. What does that mean? What does it look like? I have no idea, but for starters I'm going to call it a state of mind. 

A little visual joke on one of my Moving Targets

As a teacher I say all the right words and give good advice regarding the necessity of play and experimentation, but am I really practicing it myself? I don't know if my work has become more work and less play, but something feels stuck or stale or in need of a re-think. 

I would like to commit to a practice of play, of noticing when I am in the playful state of mind while doing creative work, and when I am not. Are there activities that can induce the play state of mind? Are there some that squash it or smother it? (Yes) My working hypotheses are:

  1.  I will make better work if I am having fun. If I am really playing, I will discover more possibilities, more ideas, more ways of executing ideas, and ultimately my work will be better. I might make less of it (which is fine!), but it will reflect my sense of humor and my perspective more authentically.
  2. Cultivating and valuing that play state of mind will enable me to let go of the external voices - the imagined expectations of others - that seem to still be getting in my way (see this blog post).
  3. By learning how to play, I can help others (as a teacher), tap into their own playful side more effectively. Learning to play will help me be a better teacher.

 I do have fun in my studio at times, and I definitely have fun teaching. I just want to pay more attention to the play and fun aspects of it all and see if I can lean into that a little more.  

I would love to hear your thoughts and your experiences on this topic. 

Please comment below.

Here is a post from 2018 about Art for Fun. It expresses some similar thoughts through a different lens.


OK, I do get a bit silly while teaching. That is part of the fun!!


  1. "Fun" for some is not fun for others. Consequently, "serious work" for some in just plain fun for others. For me, if what I do in the studio is not fun, if I dread it, if it bothers me, then it's considered "work" for me. If the creative work gets to the point it's not enjoyable then I don't do it anymore and move on to something else. I am retired and really don't want or need my art to become a "job" for me. I am old and life is short! That's not to say I don't revisit the pieces that were "not fun" because after a time away, I lose the need to complete it as I first imagined it would be and simply let go and play with it another way. Many times I love the finished product so the time was not wasted.Also: working in a series always helps me to explore and play with various ideas succinctly and this serves me well.

  2. I agree with much of what Laura has said. However, if you don't allocate time in the studio, much like going to work, nothing gets done. My view is that 'brush mileage' is important. The more you do the the better you get. If that is play, or work, it's all good. I play a lot, but probably not enough. I often feel constrained by time, and energy, and tradition. When I'm actually in 'the zone' it is pure joy, and woe betide anyone who interrupts me. My husband is very aware of this.

  3. I find it extremely difficult to play in my ‘workroom’, calling my space a studio seems pretentious and so I never do!
    Although I have been making art for almost 40 years, have been selling art for most of this time and winning a few awards along the way I still don’t call myself an artist.
    Partly I think that this is a generational thing, with children of my generation being brought up not to be boastful, not to ‘big note’ themselves at all and being ‘put down’ if we did.
    Therefore, my art has to be for something, an exhibition and to hopefully to sell. Selling my art justifies the expenditure on materials, which is crazy really as my husband has never begrudged the time or the expense of artwork. My attitude is a legacy of my up bringing, don’t waste time by playing, spend the time working! I really wish I could just ‘play’.

    1. I used to worry about money spent, but no longer. I'm sure golf, or other pursuits would be as expensive.

  4. As a kid I would love to play more than anything. I hated to stop to do something as important as having to eating, sleeping or even go to the bathroom. It interrupted my thought process, imagination and my enjoyment. Even today as a mature artist this enthralment still motives me to continue to create.
    There’s nothing more that I love to do than play in my studio.
    I too am an art educator for over 42 years and my most exciting classes are the ones we can let lose and enjoy the process. It’s a thrill.
    No matter what I do that creative aspect always comes through. I get bored very quickly but tapping into that creativity makes the journey so much better.

  5. I love to play, and I have no problem dropping into it at all! The serious stuff is necessary, but it does get a bit boring - but play... oh I could go for days! My husband gave me a spirograph for Christmas :D More play, can't wait to see what I can do with that and a gel plate :D


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