Wondering About the Relationship Between Play, Learning, and Art

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The more complicated version:
Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 9.00.35 PMResearch Questions:

1. How does “having fun” influence art making, play, and learning?
2. How might understanding the relationship between play and learning influence art education curriculum?
3. How can art educators use playful art making to help their students live joyfully?

To begin research for my literature review, I kept an absurdly detailed little journal filled with personal working definitions.  I had pages defining play, art, learn, work, create, destroy, fun, happy, develop, etc…  Once I began looking for articles that addressed these issues, my definitions helped me engage with the material.  The philosophies and theories about the relationship between learning and play were interesting to me, especially when I began to see historical cycles of their popularity.  This also helped me narrow my focus because I realized that I didn’t want to just be another educator on another historical “play” bandwagon, so I began searching for literature that I felt could help me form enduring ideas about using play as a fundamental part of learning in the art classroom.

After researching, I understand much more about the biological and developmental functions of play.  I have been made aware of many different schools of thought about the relationship between art and play and discovered some contentious grounds!  Some scholars suggest that art is a form of play, and other scholars wholly refute this claim.  I have enjoyed discovering the source of these philosophies in Schiller’s writings, but I’ve been even more excited by all of the hubbub responding to his philosophies.  I have gotten the sense that while playful art making is widely acknowledged as beneficial for the field of art education, it has not yet become a fundamental part of curriculum of teaching techniques.  Individual art educators (like George Szekely) and philosophical pockets (like Reggio Emilia) have embraced these ideas, but these philosophies seem contained…they do not influence mainstream thought.

AND THEN IT HIT ME.  I was reading over Arthur Efland’s article on the School Art Style when I realized an unintuitive bias that I’m going to have to fight against throughout my research.  Many people have an favorable definition of play.  They believe that art making is merely recreational, therefore, playful.  I’ve been getting confused looks from my friends and family when I explain that I would like to infuse my art curriculum with playful activities because they assume that we are already playing.  Because it’s art class.  And that’s what we’re supposed to do.  What I will have to prove in my research is not “play=good”.  The hardest thing to prove is that play=learning.  Play=valuable.

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