Work and play

May 9, 2006

Dear Rodney,

"Work is not necessarily work," wrote Bob Abrahams of Perth,
Australia. "It depends on how one views it. Work is like
'service'--to others or to humanity. Serving is a joyous

Thanks, Bob. Actually, a lot of artists tell themselves that
work isn't work, and they start to believe it. Then others do,
too. That's how the idea of 'work is play' got around. It's a
popular myth but, like a lot of myths, it holds up a candle of
truth. Max Elliott of Banff, Alberta, recently asked, "Why do
visual artists 'work' and musicians 'play'?" Thanks, Max. Good
question. Why should those guys have all the fun? Speaking of
fun, Noel Coward said, "Work is more fun than fun." Was he onto
something or was he just another self-deluder?

It's my bet that we humans are in the greatest state of joy
when we serve. And that goes for serving the work that we love.
"Love something? Serve it," was research scientist Roshni
Mitra's key to extended joy. "Happy are the painters for they
shall not be bored," said Winston Churchill. But if it was just
about avoiding boredom, we'd have long ago quit and gone

No, it's service. Art is service to a demanding Goddess who
demands play as part of her servicing. And here's the rub: We
have to put in a certain amount of work to get to the fun
parts. Sure, we can muck about with the materials up to our
armpits--we might even convince ourselves that it's art that
we're making. But to get to the real joy we have to at least
get a glimpse at proficiency. Even if we're not quite there, we
need to get to the point where we can see a job well done. If
we have any sense of personal potential--and of our wider
humanity--it is our truest desire to be smiled upon by the
demanding Goddess.

Contingent on all of this is that the artist be an
individualist. Self-starting individualists are in a better
position to free themselves and manage a balance between play
and work. And when coupled with high ideals, loftier goals
become more attainable. Serving our love means putting our
heads down and achieving skills that are commensurate with our
vision. The two go hand in hand and grow together. Serving also
means valuing process. Process is its own joy. It's a way of
being. "Work is love made visible." (Kahlil Gibran)
Best regards,


PS: "Art! Who comprehends her? With whom can one consult
concerning this great Goddess?" (Ludwig van Beethoven)

Esoterica: Psychologists and other scientists have been
studying the role of play in the actions of humans and animals.
In protozoa and in people the "Theory of Play" suggests that
playful play is a vital preparation for wilful work. Bryn Mawr
College professor, Paul Grobstein, in "Variability in Brain
Function and Behavior," says, "Play is not only to be enjoyed
but to be accorded high value for its fundamental role in the
success of all organisms, including humans." In "Playgrounds
and Classrooms," Brooke Lowder of Haverford College traces our
shortfall of creativity to the restriction of childhood play
and the dominance of school curricula. "Enforced homework," he
says, "is the destroyer of childhood imagination."