Pablo Picasso said, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” I would say the same about “play”. All children have a natural ability to play – the question is – how do we keep the spirit of play alive in ourselves once we are adults?”
Let me come clean. I am an amateur artist, and I love to create art with others. Art, for me, is a form of play, exploration, expression, sheer fun, and prayer. Weaving these passions together, I offer art PLAYshops – a variant of “workshops” where I gently guide people as they paint with watercolours or create paper collages.
My passion for play goes back a long time. As a child, I loved putting on plays, dressing up, creating fairy homes in gardens, drawing, writing books, making up mysteries to solve, and building tree forts. When I grew up, I never lost my need for play and mischief, but found that this did not always fly well in the adult world of work. When I fell in love with a grain farmer, I found myself living in a community where the protestant work ethic was alive and well. While people did take time out to play, they often “played hard” (curling, baseball, fowl suppers). My own deep desire for play, whimsy, fun, and creativity seemed – well frivolous, selfish, and entirely beside the point.
For many years, raising four children, living as a farm wife with a job off the farm and volunteer commitments, I often felt as if my list of “to do’s” was on a never-ending toilet roll. As soon as I ticked a few “to do’s” off my list, more would race in to take their place. I often had no inner space to listen to the “still small voice” within. But when I did, the message was clear. Spend time in nature. Keep creating art. Nurture and celebrate your playful spirit. Take time to notice. These are essential to your well-being, as necessary as breath.
In time, both circumstances and shifts in my own priorities began to give me the “space” I needed to create art. There were still voices in my head telling me to do something more useful, more practical, less selfish, more lucrative. Nonetheless, I made a conscious choice to take time to play and to create art. I gave myself permission.
If creating art fed my spirit, I mused, maybe I could offer the opportunity to others. Starting at my kitchen table with a few friends, my art PLAYshops were born. Now, some years later, art PLAYshops and retreats are a vital part of my fledgling art business.
Who comes to art PLAYshops? People of all ages. Those who have not created art since school. Those who don’t think they have a creative bone in their body. Those who have bought art supplies for “when they have time”. Those who are curious. Those who want to give themselves a day away from whatever their usual busy routine is.
Each PLAYshop is a fabulous learning opportunity for me. What have I noticed and learned? For starters, I have learned how hard it is for people to remember to say PLAYshops instead of WORKshops!! This interests me. Does play have less substance or legitimacy than work? It is not a question of work versus play as the two often overlap: we have all done work that was so natural to us and that we loved so much that it felt like play. I would note, however, that our culture almost always errs on the side of too much work and not nearly enough play. Art PLAYshops are one small way to redress that balance.
I have learned that many people feel fear about creating art and are worried about making mistakes. Back in school, one or two students were labelled the “Artist” despite the fact that everyone has the capacity to learn to draw. In a PLAYshop, I try to create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable and safe to play and to experiment, to ask “what if I tried this?”
I have noticed the physical comfort people feel in simply working with their hands. As they become totally absorbed in what they are doing, all of the chatter in their heads shuts down. They often forget to sip their tea or go to the bathroom. There is a “zen” feeling in the room. I imagine that they are feeling what I feel when I “play”: a contented tingling or humming within, a quiet joy, a sense of lightheartedness. Well-being. I don’t feel any “shoulds” when I play. There is nothing forced about it. I feel delight.
I notice that people often go deep when creating art in this way. We go to a holy place. We can express those things we have no words for; creating art is a healing activity.
Finally, I notice that although the emphasis is not on the final product, people are usually surprised and often amazed by what they have created.
Each of us does something in our lives that we love doing and that comes to us naturally. A friend feels this way in her drumming group. Another practices “manure meditation” when mucking out her horse stalls. Many of us feel this way when gardening or knitting. Where do you find the “spirit of play” in your life?