“By analogy, the work of art is also “the playing of it”. An autonomous event comes into being, something comes to stand in its own right which “changes all that stand before it”” (Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy).
The above quotation is a summary of contemporary philosopher Gadamer’s beliefs on the role of play in art. What I’m interested in talking about in this blog, however, is how the making and experience of art can be paralleled to the role of play in life. As Gadamer suggests, we as artists or rather people are players. I’m sure it’s been done before, but I’m going to set up life, in this blog, as being an instance of play, an artwork.
A confession: I have always been a perfectionist. Now, this has its pros and its cons. My own approach to art and to life is often contemplative and meticulous. This also has its pros and cons. However, last year I encountered this text by Gadamer, defending the relevance of play in art, and it prompted me to reconsider my relationship with play and spontaneity in my own life. In fact, when I think back to memorable evenings or events that have unfolded in my life over the past couple of years, impulsively unravelling at the rate of yarn and into the whim and tide of the night was paramount to every experience. As stated in the Stanford entry on Gadamer, “The game analogy also serves to undermine approaches to art which are exclusively intentional, material and conventional”. Relating this back to life, I find I’m still learning that there’s a lot of value in refraining from trying to wield aspects of the future (career oriented, romantic, or otherwise), that haven’t yet played out naturally, into my present life. I’m actively learning that there’s value in patience and in play vs. control.
“Art requires materials certainly, and an appreciation of how a specific tool might be used. Yet neither game nor art is constituted by its equipment” (SEP).
One thing that the quotation above got me thinking about is how we as people often allow certain conventions, fears, and social codes to erase the play from our daily experiences. I remember a time in my own life, as do we all, I’m sure, when I allowed recipes for social success to dictate how I outwardly expressed myself, leaving little room for play or experimentation with my own appearance. As many of us come to know in adulthood, I learnt that – contrary to my fears – my social life bloomed tenfold once I removed the restraints that I’d placed on myself and began to re-allow expression and experimentation into my own behaviour and my relationships with others.
On this same note, Gadamer suggests, as paraphrased by the SEP, that “the act of spectatorship contributes to enhancing the being of the artwork by bringing what is at play within it to fuller realisation”. What Gadamer is saying here is that the unpredictability of our interactions with others are what bring art or, in this case, the artwork that is our own lives to full and euphoric capacity. Here, Gadamer emphasizes the role of other people in drawing out certain colours or qualities in things. This is so relatable to everyday life in that it’s important to allow both ourselves and other people the opportunity for play. While companionships that inspire us intellectually are important, Gadamer’s theory suggests, to me, that refraining from undervaluing the people who always make us laugh and who inspire the desire within us to become wild in a way and to experiment – to relinquish both composure and control – this is equally important.
While I’d like to say that I’ve come to this realization on my own, it’s rather a handful of relationships that I’ve had the pleasure of forming over the last year or so that have taught me that it’s liberating to plan to be together but to otherwise not have plans, that it’s gratifying to experiment in conversation and to have relationships where all you do is joke. . all of the time! So, while there’s a time – many times – for being meticulous, our lives are made richer when we, daily, become changed by art and by a kind of play that transcends age, when play and work are all the same – are life – and not just part of it.