Exploring Purposeful Play

Angela Andersen is a creator, a maker, an artist, an innovator, an entrepreneur, and a tinkerer; an idea person who values disciplined and thoughtful practice.
There is little in this world that I can state with certainty other than this: life can be hard to predict. How do we proceed with confidence in a world that can look very different from one day to the next? Like many readers, I have shaken hands with change and uncertainty.  The question is, how do we prepare? Cultivating navigational strategies is at the core of what I do as an artist and as an educator.  Artists are the most resilient and adaptable individuals I know. They notice things, they ask: ‘what if’, and they respond, without fear, to changing tides. Youth, who face rapidly changing social, cultural and environmental landscapes, have this same quality. They have the capacity to dream without limits and to embrace the work needed to meet the challenge. As artists, as educators and as citizens we lead mostly, by example. The creative spirit is an innovative spirit and non-juried art shows, like the Cowichan Valley Fine Arts Show and non-profit organizations like the Cowichan Valley Arts Council set the stage and the example for supporting and leading the artistic, human drive.
As a fine arts educator, I come across the term ‘purposeful play’ often. As an artist, I practice it. Experimentation, playful exploration and disciplined investigation of personal, social and cultural themes are the birthplace of discovery. History has shown us over and over that the ‘freedom’; supported or fought for, represented in an artist’s work shed light on possibility. Over the past few weeks, I have become increasingly aware of the role an audience plays in the process of ‘purposeful play’. What gap is left when no audience is physically present? Is it enough for us as creators to simply continue in isolation or are we like WWE actors/athletes filling an empty arena with the self-conscious echoes of our labour? What value comes from visiting international museums and art galleries through virtual tours? How does the experience of opera change when we record and tune in, at our convenience, a ‘live’ opera performance? Having a time dependant show or a performance date creates a tangible season for an artist, like a harvest season or an annual holiday. It, along with the pressure only an audience can provide, is the accountability framework that brings ‘purposeful play’ to a professional realm. Artists, professional or emerging, have the potential and drive towards growth and discovery. A live audience supports artistic innovation by bringing accountability and the productive pressure of presenting ones best in a dynamic conversation influenced by a specific place time.
The moment of exchange is like a conversation made more engaging from some degree of challenge and surprise. Convenience can sometimes come at the cost of discovery. A screen is a poor replacement for the warm texture of a felted tapestry. A smart phone screen will never capture the beeswax aroma and lush sheen of an encaustic painting. A virtual audience of likes and accolades is not the same as knowing people marked their calendars, got dressed, and organized their evening to physically go and experience your work. Digital work and online galleries are very useful for education and artistic expression, and they are not the whole story.
I will continue to invest in the development of my discipline over time while advocating for the freedom to explore. Embracing change means asking questions, reflecting and setting up the right conditions for discovery. The audiences that come to the Cowichan Valley Fine Arts Show and the community of artists and volunteers who build it provide accountability and showcase the navigational markers artists create in response to a sea of potential ‘what ifs’.