As usual, the summer has offered a number of flea market visits. When I step inside the door of a new flea market, I quickly sweep my eyes over the premises in search of book spines. And somewhere deep behind the crockery, furniture and ornaments, the books usually stand. Most of the books usually consist of novels, detective stories and cookbooks that have all been printed in mass editions. But sometimes something else pops up. This summer, for example, I found a collection of historical essays: People in the Past by Eva Österberg (Atlantis 1995).
In one of the essays, she writes about play and laughter from a cultural-historical perspective. In the text, she refers, among other things, to the book Homo Ludens; A study of the Play-Element in Culture by J Huizinga (1949), a study of the playing man. And if there is something I have thought about a lot over the years, it is precisely the importance of play in a creative activity.
Reflexively, it is easy to see laughing children in front of you when you think of the word play, but play often contains a large measure of seriousness. Contrary to what we often think, the opposite of play is not seriousness, emphasizes Huizinga. And if I think back to my own childhood games, they were rarely filled with laughter. Rather, they could be filled with the seriousness of the moment.
No, the opposite of play is benefit. The game does not want to produce anything and it has no end goal. The moment you introduce purpose and goals into the game, it has actually lost its meaning as a game. You can compare it to sports, e.g. soccer, which is basically a kind of game with a ball, but which has fixed rules and clear goals. On the contrary, play requires freedom from fixed rules and a clear purpose.
I am completely convinced that it is important to keep the benefit at arm’s length. At least when it does not apply to the basic needs of food, accommodation, transport, etc. In my creative work, I am keen to keep the game alive. It can sometimes be a way to move on and find new paths. Huizinga even believes that: “Civilization requires that we not forget the game. The game requires mastery and ingenuity. It breeds creativity. It gives us the counterpoint to the utility that we need to be human.” (Östberg p. 87)
I can only agree. If everything is turned into utility, existence also loses its perhaps most important component – the freedom of thought. I think this is important to have with you in your writing, painting, drawing, etc. A day of play is not wasted time! I have several examples of when my play in the studio has in the long run led me on to a new character, a text or a painting. The important thing, however, is that the game must not have this as its goal from the beginning.
Mattias is an author and illustrator