One of the great advantages of art making and learning is the special place play has in what I call my toolbox of skills and competencies. Play is a key ingredient in creative thinking and problem solving, but as adults we often forget to make use of play even though as children it came naturally. Give an empty box to a toddler, stand back and watch the exploration begin. What does that box hold? How can I get in or out? What is this thing made off? Why then does play fall away as we get older? I think we shrink away from play because we are afraid we won’t be taken seriously or we might even look foolish. Play is relegated to certain times, places, or events like board games or spots, but it is not included in meetings unless of course you happen to work in a creative industry where your ability to play will likely be honored.
Several years ago, I decided an injection of play might be just the thing I needed to increase my flat to nonexistent creativity. I wanted to reconnect my heart, hand and brain in one circuit. I seriously needed to learn how to play again. I was a bottled up mess of formal training crammed with over-thought ideas that clearly lacked sparkle. My creativity had disappeared in the long shuffle of day-to-day routines or “most do” obligations that pulled the oxygen out of me. What could I do that would jump start my passion for making and exploring, and give me that childlike sense of wonder? My inspiration came from a formal introduction to mandalas.
My interest in mandala making has two roots. First, there is the scholarly understanding of the contextual history within Eastern religion and Western psychology second, and most importantly, there is the aspect of mandala making as a centering of self in play. A corner of my studio is designed for just this type of play. All my favorite things are gathered neatly about but are scattered in complete disorder. Scraps of paper, small piles of found objects, different mediums including watercolors, colored pencils, even crayons, all hold a place of distinction. My first mandalas show the grasp of formal training; it took awhile for that grip to loosen, but eventually I did learn to relinquish control, to let this moment be, and to not worry if this was art.
Playful encounter with materials coupled with connection to my senses lead to new discoveries. I placed trust in the moment generating what I felt rather than what I thought. What constituted a completed work began to change as I learned that chance and surprise were equally important to balance and focus. Rather than force an idea, I confidently let go and let be.
At mandala workshops, I invite participants to tap into their playfulness, to faithfully allow what they are feeling to surface, then give the image time for thoughtful reflection. Then like a curious cat just follow where the image takes you.
This journey kindled newfound powers of creativity within me that I utilize in many aspects of my daily shuffle. As a result, impermanence has entered my art vocabulary. Now, works are what they are. Works change or I use them to make other pieces – there is a cycle of usefulness that excludes holding on and/or clinging. I understand that disruption has a place and may in fact lead me to a new creation. I trust my instincts and find I am not afraid to offer different suggestions or ways of solving problems. The benefit of thinking and responding like an artist diversifies my point of view. It also means I seriously play!