The Power of Play
Updated: Nov 13
By Adam Schultz
“I like the idea that a large part of my job as an adult works best if it is left up to the child in me. I also like the idea that recess has become an important part of our business model. lol” —Adam Schultz
For the past week I’ve been planning on writing down a few thoughts about how important being able to cultivate a state of ‘play’ is for creativity. However, every time I sit down to put pen to paper, I have become distracted, and have ended up making a bunch of happy sketches of new sculpture ideas instead.
The struggle is real.
As working artists, Lorri and I spend much of our time actively working on the business part of our lives, (marketing, managing production, etc.) but we also have to make sure we’re able to reserve an amount of space in our lives to actually be able create new artwork. Over the years I’ve found that when we only save time for playing with art until after all our other daily chores are done, we often feel too tired to be inspired.
The struggle is real.
I’m not sure where new ideas come from, except that I’ve noticed that they usually strike me just when I’ve forgotten that I’m looking for them. Realizing this pattern, I have begun to practice various methods of getting my brain out of the way when I’m working out new ideas. These techniques have been numerous, but all have involved me trying to forget what I’m intending while I’m creating.
New ideas only seem to occur after I’ve somehow managed to distract my left brain from critiquing my art while I’m making it. As an adult, I’m constantly judging my own work as I hope to improve my craftsmanship. Sometimes however, my inner critic keeps me from exploring any new ideas at all, judging them too childish to let run around the studio like I used to do as a kid with my construction paper and crayons.
What I’ve found, though, is that it’s been in those distracted times, when I’ve forgotten what I was originally trying to make and just start messing around, that I’ve suddenly been struck with a great idea right out of the blue, and have found myself instantly immersed in that ‘flow’ state of mind–where Great Ideas live. Eureka!
The Flow- the State of Play - that place where I lose track of time and space and am totally in the present, watching the artwork come to life in front of me, as if my hands are moving of their own accord. What a great feeling! Creating art while in the ‘flow’ is not unlike how I felt sledding down a huge hill of snow as a child. Wheeeeeee!
Over the years, Lorri and I have discovered that all of our best artistic ideas have come from a willingness to play and experiment in the world of our imagination. So, part of our job as artists is to practice cultivating a state of play in the studio and in our daily lives, so we can help ourselves be more open to new possibilities more of the time.
The time to critique the art work comes after the creation time. To learn to move in and out of this playful state of mind with ease, is the work of the artist
John Cleese has written a book on creativity. He has been quoted saying:
“Creativity is not a talent. it is a way of operating. You see when I say "a way of operating" what I mean is this: creativity is not an ability that you either have or do not have. It is, for example, (and this may surprise you) absolutely unrelated to IQ, provided that you are intelligent above a certain minimal level that is, but studies by MacKinnon showed that the most creative had simply acquired a facility for getting themselves into a particular mood – "a way of operating" – which allowed their natural creativity to function.
In fact, MacKinnon described this particular facility as an ability to “play.” Indeed, he described the most creative (when in this mood) as being childlike. For they were able to play with ideas… to explore them… not for any immediate practical purpose but just for enjoyment.”
Cool concept. He goes on to talk about steps anyone one can use to achieve this creative state of mind in his book Creativity: A short and Cheerful Guide.
To learn to give ourselves permission to “follow the white rabbit” is the key to innovation, methinks.
It’s been important for us to practice regularly letting our childlike ideas out into the open so that they can run around and play together like kids at recess, before they get tired again and hide behind piles of our other obligations. If we keep ‘em inside for too long, they run the risk of staying in the dark forever.