Art and Play, Two Halves of a Whole
Art and play, the two best friends that anyone could ever have or if they were a diagram, it would simply be a singular circle with one facilitating the other in an endless and continual loop.
In fact, art and play are two words that I often times use interchangeable. Each word asks us to think creatively, have fun, use our imaginations, and be curious. They each allow us to learn about ourselves while engaging our emotions with those around us.
Art engages children's senses in open-ended play and supports the development of
cognitive, social-emotional and multisensory skills. As children progress into
elementary school and beyond, art continues to provide opportunities for brain
development, mastery, self-esteem and creativity. (Mincemoyer, 2016, p.1)
When I teach, and I am sure other teachers can relate, I find myself frequently using repeating phrases. One phrase I lean into, is “just have fun, just play with it.” It being the paint, the paper, or whatever medium or idea we are working on. Just play, harness those feelings of setting up a kitchen in your backyard or a village under the dining room table, just play. Set your expectations aside, ease up on yourself, and explore. Let your subconscious do the decision making and see where it takes you.
This piece above was created by artists, Jeff Koons, an artist made famous by his giant "inflatable" balloon animal sculptures was noted to fetch up to $20 million at Christie's Auction House in spring of 2018. Made of aluminum, standing 11 feet tall, and taking over 2 decades to perfect, this piece looks like the discarded remnants a child would have left of the dining table when they were all finished playing. So what does this tell us about fine art and play? It is the perfect piece to demonstrate famous artists who have achieved such proficiency in their craft that they lean back in time and hark back to their childhoods for ideas that provide us with a visceral reaction to memories we all hold close. It further illustrates that it is the process rather than the product that has the deepest benefits to our individual development. (Kinsella, 2018).
I have talked about this show before, but one particular episode from “The Abstract” series on Netflix that speaks to this idea is “Design for Play” which follows Cas Holman and the development of toys that are both open ended and visually stimulating. This allows children to create in any way they want, without rules, directions, or even pictures about what the “final product” would be. Another way we are thinking about process over product.
Sometimes when children are asked to focus on an end result, or to finish
something, it can limit the type of learning that can take place. Through self-
expression and creativity, children’s skills will develop naturally. (Mincemoyer, 2016,
One of the creative toys that Cas Holman designed is call Rigamajig.
In designing Rigamajig, Cas imagined a tool that prioritized process over outcome
and valued cooperation and interdependence over independence. By providing
children with tools and materials and trusting them to find use and story, we
embolden them to imagine new things and build the objects of their imaginations
without fear of failure. We give them agency. (“About,” 2022, casholman.com).
Art cannot exist without the same fundamental ideas as play and vice versa. When we play we build towers, design games, doll house rooms, dream up scenarios, and turn the woods behind our houses into a city. The imagination that allows you to do that is the same one that let Van Gogh dream up “Starry Night” and Salvador Dali to make clocks melt.
So while art and play are two halves of a whole, imagination is the whole. The entirety of both is that without imagination, both would cease to exist.
On that note, let’s get out there and play, dream big, and turn all those wonderful ideas and bring them to life. Time to find some paper and a pencil and get started, you never know where it can take you!
About. (2022). Cas Holman. Retrieved from https://casholman.com/aboutcasholman
Kinsella, E. (2018). " Jeff Koons's Giant Play- Doh Sculpture Could Fetch $20 Million at
Christie’s Auction House This Spring.” ArtNet News. Retrieved from
Mincemoyer, C.C., PH.D. (2016). “Art - an opportunity to develop children’s skills.” The
Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved from