Sunday, July 15, 2012

Is This Work or Play?

I read a few weeks ago that referring to one's studio time as "play" devalues the work that is being done.

At first, I completely agreed.  How can anyone -- including yourself-- take what you are doing seriously if you keep calling it play?  If people think that you are playing, they feel no compunction about disturbing you.  They imagine, perhaps, that you are sitting at your desk giggling and squishing your fingers in Play-doh or some other seemingly frivolous pursuit.  Say that you are working, however, and it is as if a giant "no trespassing" sign had been erected.  The phone does not ring, no one asks you when dinner will be served.

Having had some time to consider, however, I only mostly agree.  Children learn through play.  And while adults don't play in the same ways, we learn through play as well.  Several years ago, I joined a group of women on a Sunday afternoon to dye fabric.  Only one of us had ever done it before, but we were ready to try out different techniques like shibori, over-dyeing, and painting with thickened dye once we did some straight dyeing.  It was fun.  Our host had a beautiful, large, shady backyard and we probably looked like big kids laughing at our mistakes, sharing our success, and eating our brown-bag lunches under a big tree.  No one set out to make a masterpiece; we were just learning.  Playing, if you will.

The difference, though, is what you call it.  Say that you are going to learn to dye fabric, and it sounds like a structured class.  Say that you are going to play with dye, and that sounds much less serious.  Same end result, different perceptions.

I have decided that, as artists, playing still has a purpose.  We just don't have to let the rest of the world know that.  So put your serious face on and sprinkle water on your brow so that it looks like you have been working over a hot easel/computer/sewing machine all day.  It will be our little secret.

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