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The Importance of Play

Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it’s exhausting for children to have to provide explanations over and over. – Antoine De Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

 

The first time I painted, my world exploded. I was twenty-eight years old, and I remember dipping bristles into vivid blue pigment and smoothing them over a sheet of white paper pinned to the wall.

 

I’d never picked up a brush. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could be a painter. I couldn’t draw. I always wanted to when I was a child, but repeated in my notebook the same one doodle of a drab flower.

 

The painting workshop was held in Taos, New Mexico at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House. The beige adobe was covered with white boards and individual pieces of four foot by five foot sheets of white cold press artist’s paper thumbtacked to the wall.

 

Two long tables sat in the middle of the room. Rows of colorful thick tempera paint in clear plastic cups were laid out on them like lines of  treasure. Next to each color of paint was an individual cup of water and a large French Isabey brush.

 

The teacher, Michele Cassou, a petite woman with a small sharp noise, intense brown eyes and a strong Parisian accent, told us to go to a color that drew us, dip the brush into the water, then the paint, and then to go to our paper. The only instruction we were given: “To play.” That way, we’d stay open to spontaneity, adventure, and the unexpected.

 

Never having held a paintbrush before, I was told not to grasp it too tightly and keep my wrist relaxed. My stroke came alive. I fell in love!

 

Still to this day, after over twenty years of painting, my heart cracks wide open when I first begin by choosing a color that draws me and laying the paint onto a clean sheet or canvas.  

 

But that first day, I was nervous. What would I paint if I didn’t know how to draw an image?

 

Play!” Michele told us in her loud, energizing French voice .

 

With permission to play in that workshop in the dry, dusty New Mexico desert, I could paint whatever I wanted. I could use any color I wanted. I didn’t have to identify myself as being anything—especially a painter. I could just paint as a beginner.

 

I let my brush move and then went back to the table to choose a different color.

 

Because I had the excuse of never having painted before, I decided that I didn’t have to care what anyone else thought. I could play, just like I was told, and was thrilled to be given unlimited permission to unleash my wild, creative self.

 

Every few minutes, Michele threw a question out to the room. Questions like:

 

What if you could take a risk?
What if it didn’t matter what it looked like?
What if there was nothing to lose?

 

The entire notion turned me on. I mean, what if I applied those same questions to my life?

 

When starting any project or making any sort of life shift, we must begin somehow. What might you begin without care or worry? If you were to play, simply play, how might you enter your experience differently than how you have before?

 

Wishing you an abundance of creativity!

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Lynn Newman