Paint as Play

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Couple

The Couple

24 x 24″

When I started painting, I was on a mission to recover my capacity for intuition and play. I was a serious child, probably the result of a heavy home life, and I never felt comfortable playing. I grew anxious watching TV, and I didn’t care for dolls, chewing off their rubber fingers when I’d bitten my own nails down to the nubs. I carted home library books too big and too adult for me, and I read all I could about slavery, the Holocaust, the Titanic. These stories captured my imagination because they were real.

Although I started painting to experience play, joy, and intuitive discovery, over time I’ve become more serious about it. For awhile this was fine, but eventually art felt too much like work, like a “should,” like an obligation. I wasn’t painting for me anymore, and it felt heavy.

This summer, I’ve been exploring painting as a source of play again.  I still feel some seriousness in the play, but that’s fine. What’s returned is an ease and humor, and a desire to let the paint lead me as much or more as I lead it.

In a talk on the writing process, Ray Bradbury scolds aspiring writers about writer’s block. He claims that writing is fun, joyful. He asks his audience not to buy into the suffering artist theme. Forget suffering, he argues, “I want you to envy me my joy.”  Bradbury says if you get a creative block, maybe you’ve just lost the thread of play. Maybe you need to pay attention, listen, and go in a different direction. Go where the joy leads you, he urges. Or, as Joseph Campbell famously put it, “Follow your bliss.”

As I reconnect with the source of joy and spontaneous creativity in my painting practice, images come more easily. I overhear my inner critic staging her usual protest, “Oh, that’s too simple, this should be harder. You should be suffering more.”

But I’m not listening; I’m playing.


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