Is Creating Art “Playing”?

I have a real love/hate relationship with the term “playing” when applied to the painting process. It can mean complete and pure creativity- freedom and originality, but it can also feel dismissive- like it means I’m not a serious painter or working when I paint. Consequently, I’ve been thinking a lot about what playing means to me. 

Play is about exploration, creativity and discovery- and that is why it is crucial to artists. It is not about what is being done, rather about how the artist is using her brain. It is about thinking in the moment, and not worrying about the outcome. It is about rejecting conformity and having the confidence to try something new. It is about understanding that risks lead to growth. I believe that when we say “play” what we mean is that the artist is willing to shut off the analytical part of the brain and tap into creativity and freedom. 

Play is a form of work. As Fred Rogers said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” That is true for artists as well. We are discovering our world of painting- creating something that has never been made before, and that needs to be discovered- uncovered through play.

It is also why it can be difficult for us adults. We have to admit that we don’t know all the answers, that we have much to learn. Play is about having no predetermined outcome. But it doesn’t mean that there are no predetermined rules about what makes a good painting. There are. (Rules about value, color, composition, balance...) And playing is just a way to discover new solutions to old problems or “rules”. It does not mean that it isn’t work, or hard, but I must admit that it is joyful, hard work. It also does not mean that it is skill-less. As a matter of fact, an artist must have many techniques and methods to draw from. The more tools and experience I have, the more freedom there is in my playing. Come to think of it, anyone can do what I do. But it takes hard work and dedication. It is a practice- the practice of opening your mind to possibility and working toward a larger goal in the work, but in a completely new way. And that is why I will continue to “play” in my work. 

Keep painting,