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  • Monique Sliedrecht

Serious Play

Updated: Jan 17, 2019


I was at my sister’s this last weekend in Hamilton, Ontario. It was great to see my nieces who are all doing really well. We didn’t have too much time together, but enough to catch up and for the girls to share in their play. They decided to set up a ‘store’ and while we were drinking our coffee they asked what we wanted to buy. They would then rummage through a big cardboard box, declare whether they had the item or not (a shoe, some socks, a spoon…) and tap away on their Fisher Price cash register, making the transaction as they had seen others do it. This continued for some time until something else took their attention. They were very focused on the imaginary activity at hand.


It’s amazing what children pick up and how they apply it to their own toys, depending on what is available. They are truly resourceful when they need to be. Most noticeable is how seriously they take their play. It got me thinking about my own work, and how much of creativity involves serious play.


The last two weeks have felt like walking through treacle, getting past the pain threshold when it comes to the flow of work and building up focus and inner stamina. It’s like building up internal muscles that have not been exercised for a while during the holiday break (or longer) and it’s tough. The number of times I have thought that I would just like to …. well, I won’t say the word….


After seeing my nieces, I was reminded of a photo my sister sent me earlier this year of her daughter cutting and glueing pieces of coloured paper to a paper plate. She is so focused. And so serious.


Matisse in his 80’s went back to that state of play - returning to the bare bones of colour, shape, movement…. creating. He said ‘I would like to recapture that freshness of vision which is characteristic of extreme youth when all the world is new to it.’ What is it about getting back to that place and reflecting initial amazement?


Up till the age of 8-12 there is no care of what others think, just a desire to try things out. Walls to that freedom are built up gradually and we must constantly go back to the place of letting go - to the child in all of us which is there somewhere - not self-conscious, just free. In these days I would say that while progress seems slow, there is progress, and I’m gradually letting go, ignoring the inner voices, and setting myself to serious play.


One of my generally unspoken aims in the work is to paint with a freshness, and to keep that freshness throughout the process. I imagine that comes with a consistent letting go and full immersion in the work, added to that a spirit of curiosity.

So, let us 'not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.' (T. S. Eliot)

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