Play and its possibilities

  • Sometimes a plan just gets in the way
  • let yourself learn something new
  • let your brain think
  • creative awakening
  • Related reading recommendations

Play and its possibilities

Sometimes a plan just gets in the way

I’ve recently been exploring the benefits and possibilities of play in art-making. I remember that I used to focus more on play in my art than any major concept, and I enjoyed the process of art-making a lot more in those earlier years of my life. When I was a kid I would just make art for the fun of it and the self expression but recently I feel like there’s been a pressure to always have a big concept behind your art so it means something, which isn’t always fun. When you have a plan for everything then there’s a lot more stress when things don’t go your way and there’s a lot of stress do make your art look “perfect.” But, when you go into art-making with no plan, then the art doesn’t have to look a certain way because there’s no expectations for it, and the possibilities are endless.

Let yourself learn something new

In that act of playing with art instead of trying to make something “perfect,” you can also learn a lot since you’re more actively making and doing the whole time and just seeing what happens as you go. And, that process of just seeing what happens with play leads to experimenting and discovering new materials, new patterns, and new ways to make art. “Mistakes” become part of the design because – since there was no goal to begin with – it doesn’t matter if there’s a big paint spill in the middle. When art isn’t precious, you stop looking at those paint spills and sloppy marks as mistakes and you just have fun with it. In my own play, I’ve found new patterns I like by just repeating a weird mark or series of lines just for the sake of it; I’ve discovered that white out can be used to make marks as well as hide them; and, I’ve explored how many things an ink blot can look like.

Let your brain think

Playing with art with no plan on your mind is also a great chance to let your mind wander. This creates a meditative state where you can reflect on whatever else is on your mind, or just completely throw your mind into being creative with the marks. This can actually be great for students by giving them time to process what they’d learned recently by thinking about it as they make art. They might even think of something new about that recent lesson because they have had that time to let their mind think instead of watching TV or reading a boring text.

Doodling, I have learned, is actually great for learning like this. When I was a student, I would doodle just to keep my brain and hands actively doing something instead of just sitting and staring at a teacher talk. Sitting still makes me want to take a nap, but doodling lets me listen to the teacher while keeping my eyes on a simple pattern or character sketch instead of the distractions of other students or room clutter. Since there’s no plan for the doodling or art play, my mind isn’t on anything but making the art so it’s not actually distracting much from the class. I think that this limit on visual distractions from looking at the paper instead of the teacher or the rest of the room allows my brain to send more processing power to my ears, so I actually usually listen better when I’m doodling or doing some mindless task with my hands than when I’m looking at the teacher.

Creative awakening

Even without the learning benefits, I feel like I’ve had a creative re-awakening since getting back into play in my art making. Planning takes a lot out of me with the pressure of wanting it to look good but just making art to have fun is in fact really fun. And, that fun gets me a lot more excited about actually making the art and discovering new things and seeing what I can do. I love learning and exploring even as an adult in college and allowing myself to play in art opens myself up to the mysteries and possibilities in creating in that exploring mindset. A lot of my art includes using spontaneous but controlled paint splatters by putting watery paint on the paper and blowing it to see where it goes, but controlling the paint still with the direction and force of the blows. I thought it was fun so I started using a lot but when I started planning to use it a certain way it lost it’s fun and meaning to me. But, working on a piece that I really don’t care about from the beginning sets me up to actually be spontaneous and in that spontaneity I can go down whatever path I want by making things up as I go with the art and seeing where it takes me. That then lets the art show me something new and creative by problem solving the random marks. Since doing this, I feel more creative in the past week than I have in the past few years.

Related reading recommendations

  • Eliza Pitri (2001) The Role of Artistic Play in Problem Solving, Art Education,
    54:3, 46-52
  • Adetty Pérez Miles & Julie U. Libersat (2016) ROAM: Walking, Mapping,
    and Play: Wanderings in Art and Art Education, Studies in Art Education, 57:4, 341-357
  • George Szekely (1994) Shopping for Art Materials and Ideas, Art Education,
    47:3, 9-17
  • Rachel Branham (2016) “What’s So Great About Art Anyway?”: A Teacher’s Odyssey. Teachers College Press.


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