Experimentation

Skagit Dawn

Skagit Dawn. Photograph © 2015 Jane Alynn

The true method of knowledge is experiment. ~ William Blake

Recently, I acquired an Angénieux lens, a vintage French-made lens that is legendary for its optical quality and speed for low light conditions. I bought it to use for street photography, a burgeoning interest of mine. I couldn’t wait to play with it. Though ultimately, I didn’t like the vignetting (it was made for 16 mm cinematography and didn’t fit the sensor), everything about this lens turned me into a beginner.

When we’ve been doing something for a long time it’s easy to forget how it was when we were beginners. As a beginner everything is new. There are no preordained scripts, no established conventions, no expected outcomes. It’s all play—play for play’s sake. There is no purpose but for the pure joy of exploring.

Watch the way children play with everything they can get their hands on.

Learning and growth are impossible without play. By persistently experimenting—doodling, tinkering with different materials, changing up tried-and-true methods, exploring new viewpoints, stretching the expressive potential of our tools, testing their limits and resistances—we become more flexible and imaginative. Play is the taproot of creativity. It transforms our way of looking at the world.

“In play we manifest fresh, interactive ways of relating to people, animals, things, images, and ourselves,” writes Stephen Nachmanovitch in his book, Free Play: The Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts, a book that has guided me for decades in my own creative practice.

I realize, though, that play isn’t always easy for us grown-ups. There are no rules. Play is messy. There’s comfort in habits, conformity, and professionalism. And play is often seen as useless, silly, extravagant, and uneconomical instead of the free evolutionary activity that it is.

So, I say, let’s play!

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