I have recently been challenged to play more and I’ve been musing about the role intention plays in art-making. I’m prone to working towards something that might contribute to series, an event or a specific piece. I have a harder time ‘just playing’.
Then I started to think whether intention was always present, whether there was a bit of a spectrum and whether we ever ‘just play’? When we watch children play, it’s purposeful – they learn and discover through experiment and exploration and it’s tiring.
So what is the difference between the intention or motive behind a piece of work or stage of work, and purposeful play? It has to be the outcome. Intentionality definitely involves something about larger pre-intentions and smaller in-the-moment ones as we work something through. (There’s quite a lot written on this but I decided about three clicks into Google to bid a hasty retreat, and this doesn’t include the role of the viewer and their interpretation – that’s a whole other ball game!). Conversely, I found this definition from a friend helpful: ‘play is purposeful activity with an unknown outcome’. As we engage in it, purpose changes and weaves it’s way through our actions and choices but there is no planned outcome. I have mentioned this before, but it really seems the difference between a journey (to somewhere) and an adventure (with no destination).
Over recent months I have needed to get ready for a show and finish off work, so absolutely the opposite of play. However, I know I will miss out on adventurous possibilities if I don’t find time to play without feeling it has to contribute to something in particular. It can be hard, especially when you are an arch planner and organiser like me! As ever, it’s a balance. But I intend to play more!
So to the show, I had a very tiring but delightful few days in Manchester talking to everyone and running workshops. The huge stone stacks provided a good backdrop to some of the smaller pieces and as I had a bit more space than anticipated, I was glad of them. The little houses holding my ‘objects of attention’ were also received well. Thank you to my friends who came along to look after things when I was teaching.
I’m slowly continuing to work on a couple of pieces which have been incubating. I tend to rock back and forth with a few ideas, the recent circles are having a rest whilst these develop. I want to create something I can sit down and stitch of an evening, so sometimes our intentions can be led by very practical choices. I have recently changed the form I want to make, but not the concept. Although I have a desire to challenge myself with some bigger pieces this year, my natural inclination is to the small. As ever, I have this inner conflict at work but I’m hoping to create something larger from combining small pieces of layered surfaces but already I am hitting problems to solve. What I’m doing still doesn’t feel very solid at the moment, so I will explain more if I decide it’s going to exist but the plan is to create pieces based on how we feel contained or held by landscape.
What I can show you is how smaller intentions change naturally as we work. I was creating sky yesterday, and once dry, I realised that some of these pieces needed to be sea, not sky:
At this point I can play around as I’m not at a point of being more committed but it’s not play. I have an outcome in mind and that’s what will determine if I stop or persevere. At the moment I still have good intentions, although it’s going to involve a bit of a re-do! 😊
As for the playing bit, I have a commitment to self to do something without intention. I have started a small sketchbook with bits of nonsense in that no one will see and that will get burned when it’s finished. I am giving myself 10 minutes before I start in my studio to ‘just play’ and see what happens. Instagram is great, but if we are not careful it can change how we approach something if we are always thinking about posting and the eye of the follower.
Over the weekend, a friend and I spent time on a great workshop finding out about oils and cold wax with contemporary landscape artist, Paul Dunn. This was also really nice playtime as it’s not something I intend to explore further at the moment. I was able to enjoy the weekend without any planning or pre-thinking and that was really refreshing. I do try and drown out the voices that have me attempting to connect workshops to what I’m doing and to go with the flow, enjoying them for the learning experience they are. They are more surprising that way.
I leave you with a wish that moments of playtime will wriggle in between your good intentions over the next few weeks!