Art and Play / by Jeannine Cook

It is the time of year when we all hear murmurs of New Year resolutions that we should be thinking about, in the knowledge that most of the good resolutions don't last very long after January 1st has passed.

Nonetheless, one resolution that I think would be good for me to try and adhere to is keeping a playful and enquiring optic about making art. Perhaps almost the attitude of "let's just launch out into space and see what happens in the art", something I often have misgivings about, especially in unforgiving silverpoint. Stephen Nachmanovich, the noted improvisationist violinist and, amongst other achievements, author of Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, said, "Play is the taproot from which original art springs. It is the raw stuff that the artist channels with all his hearing and technique." He could just as easily have said "seeing and technique". He maintains that every time we open our mouths to say something, we are in fact improvising, and that creativity is in the same category, given to everyone.

In truth, when one is about to launch into a plein air painting or drawing, it is very much an act of improvisation. Since weather conditions, light and innumerable other aspects can change from one moment to the next, one has to regard the whole endeavour as play, as a challenge that is fun. In other types of art, the mere act of turning off the left hand side of the brain and ceasing to think turns it all into a much more venturesome affair, where there is indeed a sense of playfulness and a sense of gambling. Perhaps one of the best demonstrations of that type of art is when an artist is creating a painting or drawing as music is performed live. My fellow artist and friend, Lori Gene, epitomises this sense of play in a very sophisticated fashion in her art created alongside musicians as they play.

I always remember Marc Chagall, in his eighties, saying that every artist should retain a childlike optic on life. Indeed, his sense of play was the source of amazingly original art. Perhaps it would indeed be good to resolve to be more playful in art making as the New Year rolls in.