I’ve been thinking a lot about words, lately — more than usual. I love words. Always have. Not just as language, but the words themselves. The way they sound when spoken, the way they look when written and what they mean or represent beyond the Merriam-Webster definition. For example, my grandfather never carried a wallet, he carried a billfold. You could argue that they are literally representative of the same thing, but the meaning or what they evoke — at least for me — can be significantly different. A pocketbook, not a purse. Dungarees rather than jeans. Or a Davenport, regardless of whether or not it actually is one. Words are labels, yes, but words are also symbols. My wife’s past studies have led her to often point out that words are some of the most important symbols that humans use to connect and to create shared meaning. And she’s right. For example, for some of you the word “exercise” is positive, a source of pleasure. It brings to mind running, time at the gym, biking, hiking, etc. For others, that same word may be a source of pain — something you have to do, rather than want to do or would prefer to avoid altogether.
What about the word “work”? What does work conjure up for you? If you’re a full-time photographer, artist, or writer, it may be something you look forward to because for you work is creating, work is self-expression, work in inspiring. But what about the weekend maker who dreams of leaving his or her nine-to-five to create full-time. To them, work may be simply a task, a hurdle to overcome so that when the work day ends, the time to create begins. For others, work is simply what you do until you retire. Then you can enjoy yourself. I have a friend whose father used to tell him over and over growing up “if it was supposed to be fun, they wouldn’t call it work.” And do you know what? My friend gets zero joy from his job. He makes good money, but is always stressed and would never consider pursuing what he loves, whatever that might be. For him, like his father before him, work is what you do until you retire.
Not long ago, I was wandering around on YouTube, looking at different painting techniques — my chops are a little rusty and I was looking for some help getting the wheels turning again. I happened across a video by an artist named Bob Burridge. In the video, which he calls his “Bob Blast,” Bob was demonstrating how he creates his abstract collages. The techniques he was demonstrating (Bob Blast 104, if you’re curious) were already familiar to me, but the video wasn’t really about the techniques. It was about giving yourself permission to play. Throughout the video, as Bob was happily painting away, adding bits of paper to his composition, he was reminding the viewer to just have fun — to play. “I’m just goofing around,” he says at one point. One video became about a dozen and in each case, the techniques were secondary to the act of creative exploration — playing at making, without any sort of expectation about the outcome. As simple as it sounds, this was a revelatory afternoon for me. The idea of giving myself permission to play — as opposed to making “work” — was remarkably freeing. In fact, I was so inspired that I grabbed my iPhone and some printer paper and set up a makeshift paint station in the laundry room under a horrible fluorescent shop light. I opened Instagram, selected Live, hit the Start Live Video button and began to paint.
About a dozen people tuned in to watch that first session — I’ve done several more since and will be making the move to YouTube soon — and 45 minutes later, I had two finished pieces on the paint spattered sheet of cardboard in front of me. And just to clarify, I’m using the word “finished” here very loosely. Were they good? No. They’re crap. But “good” wasn’t the point. The point was to let go of the notions of good or finished or art or Art and just do, like when we were kids and just rode bikes. We didn’t have a destination, we just did it because it was better than staying inside. That’s exactly how I feel doing these live sessions — no destination and it’s better than not painting, or writing, or photographing or playing the harmonica or whatever your “it” thing is. Just play. You don’t really even need permission.
When was the last time you gave yourself permission to play? What were the results?
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