Chasing Down The Muse: Don't forget to stop and play

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once (s)he grows up.

—Pablo Picasso


Too often in the daily business of living and working as adults we forget the joy of play for the sake of itself. It is unfortunate but true that, as George Bernard Shaw is noted as saying, "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.

It is with good reason and some forethought that my friend Suzette and I call our classes "Mixed Media Playtime." That reason has much more to do with the playtime aspect than the mixed media one. To play is to create — to be that grown-up artist — and, conversely, to create can be the greatest form of play.

This past weekend, during Spring into Art at the Sawdust Art Festival grounds, we had two days of pure play. Fifteen of us piled into the one large room, introduced ourselves, and just started to play. We had a motley crew. Sarah brought her grandmother, Judy, who said she had not done art for 50 years. They walked, shopped and dined Laguna after class before staying in a local hotel. Sisters-in-law Lorraine and Laura made a weekend of it for a second time — coming from Upland and El Monte to stay overnight.

Fred and Veronica also stayed over for a play-filled weekend, as did Wendy, a long-time student-playmate of ours. Others drove in each of the two days to partake of the fun. We met Dena who had recently moved to the area and Ana from Ladera Ranch. Chris hopped over from Corona del Mar, while Cindy and Eileen — devoted to this play time — drove farther to join us each day. Emily was only able to join us for one day, but seemed to have caught the bug for sure.

I may be biased, but I can think of no better place to play than the cathedral-like grove of trees that is the setting for these Sawdust classes. With all of the booths removed, one is able to feel the full impact of this natural setting and appreciate it. Gentle breezes play through the trees and birdsong provides a soft musical background to a buzz of activity on the ground below. There is a feeling of "removal" from daily life that enhances the ability to dive into play.

And dive in we did! There is nothing neat and tidy about our process and, while Suzette and I try to follow an outline, a plan, it is lost in the experience and we simply follow where process and flow take us. What fun!

Exploration and discovery are abundant as we go about solving the little "problems" of art. "I just don't like this one at all" becomes an opportunity to try something new or different, to look with new eyes. Isn't this what children do all the time? The freedom is exhilarating.

Artistic spirits seemed to thrive as we used found objects and papers and paints. We made tools out of household objects, found new ways of using things often tossed away. Again, eyes opened wide to see this world of possibility as a child might.

There is power and freedom in embracing play. Now as springtime begins to warm the air and blossoms and green shoots poke through, we should all take some time for pure play, no matter what. I hope you will all hear the call and remember the "great cathedral space which was childhood" (Virginia Woolf) just as the dozen-plus of us did this past weekend. It is exhilarating, refreshing and exhausting in the very best sense of that word.

Get busy and PLAY!

CHERRIL DOTY is an artist, writer, counselor and always fascinated, inspired and titillated by the beauty and the myriad mysteries of life. She can be reached at or (714) 745-9973.

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