when just play isn't helpful advice

Recently I was discussing playing as part of the art making process with a client, and she told me how a teacher in a class she’d taken recently told the students at a certain point to ‘just play’.

She said

All the other students seemed to be merrily getting on with playing and throwing the paint about, and I was standing there feeling so uncomfortable because that lack of structure was way too broad for me. I needed a container, or some guidelines.

Have you ever felt like that when you’ve been encouraged to ‘just play’ with your art supplies?

I have; I just thought that there was something wrong with me for not knowing exactly what that meant, or for being ‘free’ enough to let rip.

I’m also guilty of having said it to people myself. {Not any more!}

If you think about it, when children play, their games have rules and boundaries within which the story can unfold. You have to stand here, no, HERE, and you can only say it three times, and we pour the tea like this, and if this happens then you’re out.

And really the very fact that we as adults have to be reminded to play is actually just a big signpost to the fact that we often don’t do it naturally!

Is it any wonder that sometimes we need a bit more direction than gaily being prompted to just have fun and play with it?

It reminds me of the idea that creativity flourishes within limits, something I’ve talked about before. And like so many things we encounter as adults, it does seem to come down to just giving ourselves permission.

Not just permission to play, but permission to define for ourselves what playing means, even if that means putting some edges around it.

For me I think it actually means I need to put in some guidelines for myself. Since I discovered how much better my art is when I have a reference image, even if I deviate from it, I’ve been better at allowing myself to put a few boundaries in place before I start ‘just playing’.

Do you find it easy to just play? Or if not, do you think if you made up some fun and flexible ‘rules’ each time you made art, it might give you the starting point you need to really let go and play your heart out?