Cornelia Parker, one of our finest living artists, has described making Art as linked to play.
“My theory about why I became an artist and why I do what I do is play was a guilty pleasure and so I think I’ve chosen a career where play is OK, although it’s hard work too, somehow work and play are very conflated in my work.”
Play is about freedom. It is about doing exactly what you feel like doing when you feel like doing it, in just the way that you want to. Of course that makes it fun, so why don’t adults do it more? That honesty of intent and clarity of purpose blazes out from a small child but many people lose it when they reach adulthood. Daily necessities and pressures get in the way and the hidden agendas that come with adult life are hard to avoid. We are taught to relax by means of things outside ourselves rather than looking inwards and enjoying what we find. Looking inwards becomes work, therapy, a way of judging ourselves and we don’t like it much. We filter what we show to the world, we wonder what people think, we worry. Play doesn’t worry about anything. When you play you are who you say you are, doing what you say that you are doing, and there is nobody awarding points for accuracy or achievement. A very rare thing in adult life. Whatever you do there is almost always somebody with an opinion about it and a “right” way of doing it. Play throws all that out of the window and allows itself to just be.
Someone who wants to be an artist has to find a way of keeping that playfulness alive. It is what connects you to your inner self and it is your inner self, your own unique way of seeing the world, which makes what you do worth looking at. It is an honest voice which says this really is me, this is how I feel and I am showing it to you. Only then can other people look at what what you have done and see themselves differently through the prism of the work. Of course technique and craft skills are important to an artist and they are also valuable in themselves but they are not at the heart of being an artist. I think that is what Cornelia Parker meant when she said this:
“I feel I’ve possibly been an artist always, but, you know, it doesn’t mean my art’s any good.”
Of course Cornelia Parker’s work is good, very good indeed, but I think I know what she meant. That openness and singular curiosity, an ability to see what other people walk past and point it out to them, is just the starting point. That alone will not automatically mean that what an artist produces will be good Art, but without it what an artist makes is likely to be dull and unremarkable. That singular eye comes first. If an artist is not expressing their individuality honestly then they are wasting their most valuable asset, that unique voice which nobody has ever had before and nobody will ever have again.
Those two quotes from a short but fascinating programme about Cornelia Parker, someone whose work I have loved since I saw it for the first time in her Turner prize exhibition room made me think……….. If Cornelia could use bricks like the ones I see on the beach where I walk my dogs to make a work like Neither From Nor Towards, which I saw and photographed in the Courtauld, maybe I could play at being an artist too. After all, I didn’t have to be a good one…………….. People play at Art on the beach all the time, whether they call it that or not.