Dr. Jeremy Mayall is a composer, artist, researcher and performer who works in music, sound art, installation and multimedia formats. Join Jeremy and a group of other creatives for a kōrero about creative play on Monday March 7 at 7pm. The webinar is run by Te Ora Auaha Creative Wellbeing Alliance Aotearoa, with support from Creative NZ and Auckland Live.
Humans are incredibly creative creatures. This creativity is an innate part of what makes us function, and the benefits can be huge, provided we give ourselves the space to play and feed our curiosity.
When we allow ourselves to indulge in a playful creative process, we can let go of things, find new inspiration, learn and innovate, and find deeper connections to ourselves and those around us.
Children have an amazing ability to get lost in a moment, to immerse themselves in imagination, and to proceed uninhibited into playful experiences. This play is a vital part of developing skills of critical thinking, of navigating change and different ideas, and forging new neural pathways for understanding and processing the world around us. This is something that is intrinsically within us all, but over time we set that pure joy aside for more serious pursuits.
The pressures of modern life and restrictions around our time and energy mean that play is often set aside as an unnecessary distraction, particularly in times of stress and uncertainty (hello, Omicron).
Perhaps we could all make the change to create our lives in such a way where we allow moments of time for play. Moments of silliness. Moments of unstructured creative activity that exist without purpose.
Play can take so many different forms, and for each of us the experience may be different. The journey to find the modes of play that connect best with us is all part of the fun. Ultimately you want to find an activity that provides a sense of engagement and pleasure. It should be an activity that takes you away from a sense of time and place into a state of flow.
As adults we can get set on ideas of what we like and don’t like, and this may limit our willingness to play. This is often combined with a perceived framing around what engagement in a specific type of activity might represent – but in play it is about the experiment. All those other things don’t matter. We want to celebrate the process. It doesn’t matter what you make, what matters is that you do it.
So try new things, and get lost in the doing of the things, rather than worrying about how good they might be. Ideally the experience of doing it is far more important than the outcome.
Play is about being present. Play is about exploring how things relate to one another. Play is about pursuing curiosity. It is good for us. Play can be anything.
You don’t need to be concerned about if something is or isn’t play, so long as you approach it with a fun, playful mindset.
It could be playing sport, drawing pictures, solving puzzles, making up songs, having a dance, telling stories, cooking food, or making things out of other things. Try a bunch of different things. Attempt something you have never done before.
You can know that you are in play mode when you are feeling happy and relaxed, when time is flowing, and you aren’t checking if you need to be somewhere else, and you feel like doing it without being made to – the reward is doing the thing itself.
Artistic activities can be an exciting and rewarding pathway into play. Many artists have elements of play as a part of their creative process. They have found pathways for experimentation and development through engagement with creative flow states. The flow state can involve improvisation where ideas can emerge freely, and you can create without stumbling through critical blocks.
This playful state is one part of the artist’s journey. The critical reflection can come later if they want to further develop and refine an idea, but the state of playful flow is an important part. It is in reflecting on this state, that we can draw inspiration from the artists in our communities and celebrate the creative process as a powerful act.
There is a growing field of research that is exploring the power of play. It has connections with mental health, physical health, active recreation, business innovation, wellbeing, education and more. There are studies completed nationally and internationally that highlight the importance of creating opportunities for play in our lives.
One group that has been doing interesting work in this field is the LEGO Foundation. They have been interested in the benefits of play for wellbeing and have been conducting research in this area in alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, supporting systemic change in making play a priority for every child.
The LEGO Foundation has identified five key benefits of play for everyone – children and adults alike. The Foundation has defined learning through play as an activity that is experienced as joyful, helps people find meaning in what they are doing or learning, involves active and engaged thinking, uses iterative thinking, and encourages social interaction. They know that play boosts wellbeing for life. It contributes to mental resilience. This makes play an important component for the lives of all people.
It also doesn’t have to cost a thing, you can do it anywhere. It can be done with the things you have around you. And it provides a pathway to deal with complex times. We can use play to create a sense of normality while lowering stress. This is vital in times of change and uncertainty like we have seen recently.
From the creation of creative environments through immersive art installations have provided space for reflection and getting to a flow state; to working with bakers to create multisensory taste sound works that combine music, with touch, taste and smell, to create unique experiences; to working with neuroscientists to explore the connections between sound and brain function. All these things have been a part of informing my own sense of play through my creative process.
But perhaps the most insightful pathways to play for me have been in observing my own son over the past 10 years. His creative approach to the world around him is fascinating. He makes sense of the things he sees through play. He draws, he tells stories, he imagines worlds, he writes songs. This playful enthusiasm is joyful, and it is through creative play that we have shared experiences.
We have collaborated on three albums of music for children – and all the songs on those recordings have emerged through a process of play. Through creating scenarios, characters, ideas, and extrapolating those things into lyrics and melodies, enjoying a playful creative process together.
This is a joyous experience for me, and I assume for him as well. Play is part of how we build worlds together. And I want him to have play as a core part of his life well into the future.
Play is a creative process. It is a process of exploration and discovery. It is an act of kindness. It is a way to connect with ourselves, our whānau, and the world around us. Moments of play help us to find space and to experience some much-needed magic. Make some time today for creative play.
Join Jeremy and a group of other creatives for a kōrero about creative play on Monday March 7 at 7pm. The webinar is run by Te Ora Auaha Creative Wellbeing Alliance Aotearoa, with support from Creative NZ and Auckland Live.