The importance of play

One of my finger paintings from the workshop.

When I was growing up, I was discouraged from taking art seriously.  Making art was play, something you could only do when your chores were done.  And there was always plenty of chores to do.

I have been very interested to read recently about play-based learning, which seems to be the latest trend in early childhood education.  The consensus is that play is how children learn, and that it develops physical, social and thinking skills.  It helps to build imagination and creativity, self-motivation and self-regulation.

Children learn best when they are free to learn at their own rate and in their own way.  The top-down, teacher-directed, work-oriented approach is counter productive.  (For a brief summary of play-based learning, see http://www.latrobe.vic.gov.au/WebFiles/Council%20Services/Family%20and%20Child/Learning%20is%20Child%27s%20Play.pdf)

A little while ago I took a workshop with Kim Lee Kho on the daily practice of art.  The idea is to develop a small, manageable daily practice outside of the artist’s regular body of work.  It should feel like play, because play makes art fun and rewarding, counters anxiety, and encourages exploration and experimentation, leading to new discoveries.

I loved the workshop, because I rediscovered my sense of play through experimenting with art materials.  I felt like I was five years old again, with a feeling of pure joy that I have only rarely experienced since kindergarten.  I must have been very happy in kindergarten, before school became work and boring.

Some of the finger painting from the workshop found its way into this piece. (Green Woman #1, 15" x 11", mixed media, 2011, by Carol Hughes.)

One of the realizations I took from the workshop was that my art practice had somehow become work — struggling to master classical watercolour techniques, to keep abreast of show entry deadlines, to allocate painting time strategically so that I would have paintings ready for submission to competitions.

I resolved to spend some time just messing about with no rules, exploring different media, cutting and pasting and getting covered in paint and glue again, because my inner five-year-old seems to really like that.

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