Thursday, August 22, 2013
Is it Work or is it Play?
My husband asked me this as I was working on some new silk scarves. He's creative with words and can build stuff but isn't artistic in the visual sense and that world is often a bit of a puzzle to him. He said he thought that when artists were working it was often the same thing as playing. It made me think. Is it work or is it play?. And just in case you're of the same generation as I am and are now hearing a certain tune in your head, here it is: "Was it Bill or is it Ben?"
It's a tricky question to answer. I sometimes feel a bit boxed into a corner with it. People appear to be implying that because expressing my creativity in clay, fabric, paper, or whatever is really important to me it therefore isn't work in the sense that someone doing a dull paid job means by the word. If you enjoy it, it isn't work. I've even heard other artists express this idea, but I don't agree with it. The line between the two is difficult to place, though.
The difficulty is compounded by the fact that we use the word "work" as a noun meaning what might be described as "product". I'll put that aside for another time. For now, I'm just talking about the activity.
I earn my living through my work. My work is mostly some kind of creative output. But here's another complication: when I'm being creative, my sense of play is often present, particularly when I'm using colour. It was because I was about to paint a silk scarf that I could see my husband's point: I was about to play with colour combinations. On the other hand painting a silk scarf is something that takes care and can go wrong if you don't pay attention. I find that textiles work in general takes a lot of concentration and am often more tired after silk-painting or machine embroidery than I am after making pots.
It's true that I have chosen the work that I do. It was a free choice. Most of what I do is very enjoyable, some bits are routine and some either just dull or actively unpleasant, such as pugging clay in the winter when my hands turn to ice. Packing up after a market isn't much fun, particularly if it's cold, windy or raining (or all three). My job is like any other in this regard, it comes with better bits and worse bits.
Another factor is that if you are involved in the arts at an amateur level, by and large it's up to you what you do and when. If you want to make your living at it, your artwork is always to some extent market led. At the basic level, this means that if I want to sell silk-painted scarves, I need to make sure that the right numbers in the right colours are available at the right outlets to sell. To do this, I may need to make more scarves in colours that don't excite me as much as others and then I'm more conscious of the work/play divide.
So is making silk-painting scarves, mugs, greetings cards or earrings work or play? You've probably realised the answer I've been heading towards: it's work. If I don't do it, I can't pay my bills. Work which involves being able to play. And although this may seem strange to some, one doesn't always feel like playing!
The scarves above are of a new small triangle design that goes with the newest triangle earrings, which you may remember my posting about earlier in the year. Look here and scroll down to the bottom of the page for the triangle design.