Play for the dark, the cynical, and the sarcastic

While the idea of play as a way to heal is not new to me, to be honest I thought it sounded pretty lame.  Once I had invested a lot of time and energy learning how to do something well, the idea of dropping all that to play was not appealing.  When I first started doing intuitive painting, I was very resistant to the idea that my training was getting in the way of authentic self expression.  To me, learning how to make art well was supposed to enable me to articulate myself better, to give me a broader vocabulary for expressing myself, and I really haven't changed my mind about that.  

I am coming to understand now that the idea of play does not mean reverting to a more childlike approach to art.  It doesn't mean acting like a child.  The word "play" has some powerful connotations for me that suggest babyish, kindergarten, blocks, diapers, crying, baby talk, whining.  The word "imagination" has similar, but slightly more mature connotations.  These are concepts that are a little tired to me, as a mother, perhaps.  And yet, AND YET!  Play and imagination are a key to finding your authentic creative self.  This is what I am learning...admitting.  

One form of play therapy is sand tray.  At first I thought sand tray was going to be lame, before I understood what it was.  I thought it was going to be drawing pictures in the sand.  So how funny is it that the first time I actually did it, I ended up sobbing?  See that image at the bottom?  With the three little plastic animals?  Arranging them, looking at them, putting them in a totally improvised situation was a very simple and yet unnervingly powerful activity that resulted in me sobbing.

What can I take from the sand tray experience that I can use in mypreferred art mediums?  I really enjoy the communication aspects of art. I like people to look at my art and comment on it, get something from it.  Sand tray is not art in that sense.  Can I translate my sand tray experience into something that is art?

I like to use my art making to meditate on symbols.  For a while, I played with a symbol that evolved from a dream I had.  It is a female figure with the head of a horse.  When it first appeared, I had just separated from my ex husband and moved out of the family home.  It was a painful time, scary too, but I also loved the independence and freedom of having my own space and time.  I remember feeling the need to include ephemeral figures or hands, that while the figure was solitary, it was not alone. 

In sand tray play, I discovered new symbols for myself (bear, panther, rat) that I selected from hundreds of available toys.  I discovered potent situations that I could explore not just in visual art but in writing and drama too. 

I'd love to hear from you! Comment below on how you have used play or other intuitive techniques in your creative process, or what fears keep you from doing so.