How Important is Fun?
Updated: Nov 2, 2021
Midway through "As Good As It Gets", some of the characters are sharing pieces of their painful back stories, the character of Melvin Udall (as played by Jack Nicholson) comments, "Some of us have great stories, pretty stories that take place at lakes with boats and friends and noodle salad. Just no one in this car. But, a lot of people, that's their story. Good times, noodle salad."
I don't know these noodle salad people, but I can't help feeling a little envious at their good fortune.
Greg Kinnear plays an artist suffering from creative block since he experienced a traumatic attack in his own apartment. Even though his body is healing, he has been unable to so much as sketch a line on a page. A large part of the movie follow his recovery process, as he moves past the trauma and builds connections with the curmudgeon, Melvin Udall, as well as the waitress character, Carol Connelly (played by Helen Hunt) so that by the end of the movie he's rediscovered his love of his own artistic skills.
Creating connections and rediscovering that sense of play is such an essential part of recovering our sense of creativity.
A significant portion of the book, "The Artist's Way," hammers on the importance of self love and self compassion; on how essential it is that we be gentle with ourselves as we begin to overcome our sense of creativity, as we lure out the uncertain, wary Inner Artist Child.
Often we must learn the same lessons over and over, but on a deeper and more meaningful level every time.
My childhood exposure to art consisted of a weekly art class with an art teacher that seemed to have long since grown weary of children. Every week she would present us with a rather dull, technical project that was beyond the skill set of most seven year olds. Even at that age, I had a sense that art should be fun, but we were never allowed the possibility of art as play.
Art for the beginner (of any age group) can involve fun projects: drawing circles like Wassily Kandinsky; plotting squares in primary colors like Piet Mondrian; creating collages like Henri Matisse. As I moved from elementary school to middle school, I'd never been presented with any of the playful forms of art, and in middle school, art even as a weekly class, was no longer an option.
Texas was in the throes of an educational reform on which all the emphasis was to be placed on Math, English and Science. After all, taking all the playful possibilities out of the school curriculum is the perfect way to get children excited about their education. What would be truly remarkable is if any child managed to escape from the overhauled Texas educational system with any of their original creativity still intact.
I did have some truly remarkable teachers in my years in the Texas educational system. I learned to love books and history. I conquered the fundamentals of math and science. I left school with my love of learning intact because of those teachers but I'd long since lost any faith in my creative voice.
Learning that I could be creative has been a long process for me. Knowing that play is an essential part of a happy life is an ongoing battle.
I know that I don't possess value because of the things I can make, the errands I can run, or the tasks I can complete, but some deep part of me struggles against being able to let go and just be. Learning to have fun is so difficult for me. I'd long forgotten how to play, but discovering my creativity voice has been an important part of that battle.
Eight years as a full time artist and I still struggle with putting aside the work and just playing: whether it's with pencils or paint or (now) video.
It's a long process, recovering our sense of creativity and our sense of play. We need to learn to trust in our artistic voice and let go of so many of the inhibitions we've learned along the way.
Like any great piece of art, we are a work in progress. Let's remind each other how important it is to put down our work and pick up a Frisbee or a box of crayons. I believe in your creative voice and our ability to have a little fun and rediscover our sense of play.