Friday, May 08, 2009

ESSAY THREE – Child’s Play

If I were to ask you if you would like to have more fun in your life and to achieve a great deal of spiritual satisfaction, chances are you would say, “Sounds great! Bring it on.”  In this essay, that is the offer – read further.

“Every child is an artist.  The problem is, how to remain an artist, once he grows up.”  Pablo Picasso

OK, if my initial offer sounds enticing, your first assignment is to go out and find a bunch of kids playing.  Not kids directly under the supervision of adults in adult spaces doing adult things, such as at a shopping center, church or visiting Grandma, but kids playing on their own.  Look for them in the backyard, on the neighbor’s porch, in the park’s playground or at recess at school.  You are not required to join them, you certainly are not required to give them suggestion, and probably your main task is to be unobtrusive – you don’t want them to start behaving “properly” because an adult is around.


You are going to discover that children play very differently than do adults.  A child doesn’t play passively but intensely - play is not a relaxing pass time, but a focused, kinetic activity that takes a great deal of energy and emotion.  A child plays hard and does so with object, noise, movement and a great deal of tactile sensation, and quite surprising to most adults, they do it without a rulebook.  Oh, certainly there may well be some generally accepted procedures, but it is not the kind of formalized and structured activity that adults call play. 

When we adults play, our first step is to name the game we are planning on playing.  Then, be it Bridge, Scrabble, Golf or softball, we make sure everyone knows the necessary procedures and rules to insure the game will be done correctly and efficiently.  Kids, on the other hand, invent it as they go.  If what they are doing is enjoyable, exciting, and stimulating, they continue, and if not, they change it all on the fly.  For children, fun is the wonderful by-product  of playing, while for adults,  we yearn for fun, and hope that playing will provide it.  If we state that the primary criterion for successful fun and games is laughter, exultation, joy and satisfaction, would you imagine that the adults or the kids would be more successful in achieving the desired goal?

The point I am making here is that being an artist is a whole lot closer to a child having fun on the playground than it is to an adult playing Scrabble.

If you want to see the creative process in action, give those kids the freedom to create with paint, clay, dance, or musical instruments.  Not as a structured activity with specific procedures to follow and a product to produce, but rather let them know that the goal is joy.  They will pour themselves into the process and delight in the freedom to express what ever pops into their consciousness.  Their skills, techniques, and knowledge may need further development, but their creativity is fully formed.  To a child, there is probably little difference between creating art and having fun.  If there be a lesson here for all of us, it is that a child at play is an artist at work.

Creating art rarely should be an intellectual process – it often loses much of its strength and energy when it is wrapped in planning, design studies, market analysis and a roadmap. The same can be said for play.

It seems strange then, that we started our life as artists (remember, we were children once) and now, in our adult years, we spend so much time and energy wondering how to make it happen again.  We buy books, we go to galleries and museums and we attend classes, hoping all of that will help.  Granted, the learning process will teach us some vocabulary, and give us skills and knowledge, but it never supplies that wonderful, unselfconscious intensity of the child at play.  We assume that lessons will show us what we need to know and learn but the reality is that most of us have much that we need to unlearn.  We need to free ourselves from the strictures of propriety, procedures and proscribed methodology and to relearn the joy of spontaneous exploration.

I am not implying that we shouldn’t be adults – as adults we have many strengths and awareness’s that will stand us in good stead as we progress towards artistic creativity.  Indeed, while those objects children create spontaneously we often find delightful, exciting and rewarding they are not, in truth, producing art.  There is more to this than play, but that is an excellent starting point.

We will certainly take this much further, and as always, I welcome your input, through comments or by e-mail


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