Play: a behavior described as essential for living an autonomous life in a state of positive being: where functional survival (action, explanation) and novelty (imagination, understanding) combine, similar to the spontaneity found among puppies and children. It is recognized by its kaleidoscopic and decontaminating spasms of whimsy, by its gossamer moments, which may be no longer than the half life of a wink and an amnesia that is detached from responsibility and indifferent to the agenda of daily pressures, where seriousness is placed in escrow, where brilliant insight overrides systematic thought and the subjectively imagined inner world is a closer reality than the measured objective world surrounding us.
This is acknowledged as common practice in the arts; how playfulness can refine imaginative skills relative to aesthetic expression with infinite possibilities and paradoxical juxtapositions. Nevertheless, the world of play is also a piranha paradise offering a variety of decoys and its sociopathology is a far remove from improvisation and impulsiveness in its allure to attract others for unfair or relative gain by playing with their emotions, their minds, their resources or identity.
The ambivalence we have towards play can be found in the linguistically pliant phrase of ‘playing by yourself’: so engaging in many ways for personal growth, with such acceptable activities as juggling or composing yodeling tunes, but which can easily morph and flicker into an episode of ‘playing with yourself’ where you are dithering indulgently between positions of creep and clergy, in the form of bodily self-attention when your hand is your only friend on weekend nights.
The quantum universe and the genetic drift of evolution plays dice with every copy of our cells and has made us the players that we are, but in response to this hypothesis, perhaps as security or insurance against randomness of the next roll, some report that God, as Master Minter, never clowns around with us on earth nor, presuming later, in Heaven, but whatever route chance and divinity follow, they have endowed play with a permanent panoramic polarity of being everywhere present, nowhere visible in its presence and magnitude between outcomes of pleasure and pain, trust and suspicion, insight and manipulation: it’s perfume and sarin in the same bottle, and our phantom limb of consciousness in a baggy bundle of permutations with limitless potential for innocent and transgressive deviation.
Anyone can play: everyone does, but you don’t always have to play along
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It is to the disquiet of today's emerging artists, confronted by art's variety of denominational terrains, in searching for their strategic call to contemplation and expression: do they choose abstract cognition versus subjective experience; form a relationship to process or objects produced, or simply apply their principles to the business of art. Where might artists look or listen to assuage their anxieties, laying them into the everlasting calm. Should they elect to grope their way through the business of art world, it may require some major aesthetic gym time to train for competing in this 3-part sequential endurance career event, as in the order below.
Academia is the institutional structure, through which aesthetic styles tend to pass, with its mission of mentoring visionaries within mainstream orthodoxy and inculcating in them skills of spontaneous self-invention under scholarship's shroud of accumulated, athletically linguistic narrative, with curriculum corrections inserted as needed to assure students that they backed the best horse in the gallop to the galleries.
Commercial galleries are the perfected aesthetic arm of the capitalist state, their existence bankrolled by patrons to benefit the higher levels of investment interests, while they provide the hierarchical value of art in gold plated perspectives through the electrolytic bath of publicity polished with a propagandist's optimism, phrased to burnish brands.
Critics complete the triad of commercial grasp, with their glittering credentials of collected wisdom and aesthetic authenticity, authoring firewalls of exalted standards to preserve a sparse firmament of stars, as well as being the Disembodied Hand scribbling the necessary documents for posterity's investment concentration.
What is the herd bewildered to do, those who ran the race, but fail to be embraced by this trinity at the finish line? Perhaps it's the Idiomaticalness of their aesthetic witness perceived as containing overabundant zesty zeal or crimped and stunted in their provincialism: their membership bestrewn with flinty eccentrics and their existence seemingly too sovereign of aesthetic bequest to be ribboned winners. As their night draws nigh and shadows lengthen, they wonder if ever they'll be seen—consider that it depends on who holds the light and upon whom its narrow beam is aimed, not the race.
In a world that fetishistically venerates the allure of money, for those artists in Icarian fall from the cutting-edge of this economic contingency it often means landing in the zone of artistic extinction, but there does exist a wider universe of creative flourishing and the intrinsic glow it gives life: in it you find that the exhilaration of discovery, the empowerment of independent thinking, the immersion into concentrated effort, and the denial of self are characteristics which stir into our souls greater humanity each time we encounter and recognize these in others and ourselves: it's possible this might be when you're the sharpest you'll ever be...only a few more>>