Work or Play?


All work and no play makes Bart a troublemaker.

Creatives are often told “You are so lucky! You get to play all day!” Most artists begin to grumble at this–creative work is just that–work. But many creatives love their work deeply, are dedicated to exploring the limits, and also have fun when they can chase an idea.

Play can be work. Design, the right use of color, critiquing your own work–that’s work.

Work can be play. You lose yourself in what you do, and the lightness you feel is the sound of success landing in your heart.

There is always the struggle is you are pricing your work. Then play doesn’t get paid enough and work that doesn’t work is overpriced. Creative exploration is work and play.

What do you do in your studio? Is it work? Is it play? How do you decide?

—Quinn McDonald sometimes can’t tell work from play. If she plays with it long enough, it starts to feel like work.

13 thoughts on “Work or Play?

  1. Thanks Quinn, your topics are always so timely for me. I plan to teach art soon for the first time and have never been faced with art for myself vs art for others. It seemed like I was creating pieces with teaching instructions in mind and it took some of the joy out of it. After a little soul searching, I have decided that I need to make time just for ‘play’ art with no direction in mind. If I can find something to share with others from playing, great- but if not, that is ok too. I need time just to play without worry about others. I will be getting up earlier just to have that creative time for me. I think I need to separate ‘art work’ from ‘art play’ & just be ok with enjoying them each in their own way. I’m new at this, but so far this decision gives me peace of mind.

    • You’ve made an important discovery–you get different results from art play than you do from art work. And art play is very necessary because it allows for possibility and invention.

  2. When we started our business (screen printing garments), I had limited knowledge of how to create images online – they were basic text and standard shapes – and our “art” prices reflected this. Because I was in learning mode, I felt I was playing more than working. Now, when a client trusts me to take their ideas and turn them into more complex images, I consider it work and am appropriately compensated for the time and effort involved, but I still enjoy the process and find the fun in creating.

    • Yep, once we add the cost, a lot of considerations come along with it. And it’s caused a lot of confusion, argument and the idea of what a woman’s time is worth. (Men artists make more money than women artists.)

  3. Play? Work? I work at play and I play in my work. The harder I work at something, the more enjoyment I get out of it and then it feels like play . . . yet play is much more than enjoyable work. Work gets paid, but so does play sometimes. This is altogether too confusing.

    If I want to get better at anything I must put in some effort, concentrate, persevere; I work at it. All this so that I can lose myself, sure of having mastery over basic skills in order to play, to stretch boundaries. Yes, I work at play.

    None of this is to be compared to the day-job where I work . . .with maybe just a touch of play. I need both in my life.

  4. I recently, as one of the things I do as a seamstress, was make costumes for a local theater group. They were for children and in some ways I was able to revisit my costume making for my sons.
    As anyone knows when making something in today’s economy, things get a bit pricey. I spent many hours and purchased items that were needed, yet not listed on the pattern package. All of the parents were babes in this arena and had to trust another to bring the vision to life.
    I enjoyed every second of making these costumes. I used my expertise to make these jackets, pants, dresses despite the kooky directions of the pattern. I was also allowed to embellish these costumes to allow a bit of funk. Which opened the doorway of the buttoned up parents who believed they had no creativity in explore another..WOW arena…:)…now that was fun…
    My dilemma was pricing…I would do this for free. I love to see them smile…yet I must pay my bills and this is one of the many ways I do it. And as I “work” my art everyday..and sometimes for payment..I discover, heal, make new friends, see the world different and find solutions to those things I thought had no answer.
    I was told I do not charge enough and that it diminishes me…Blarney for that….I listen to me…I live in this world and the economy..and the dreams we are all trying to make come about…so my price was perfect…because one cannot price..the look of sheer delight displayed on a child and their parents face upon completion.
    So my work…my art, helps to pay the bills…but it also allows me to open the doors, look under the covers of the ideas, floating in my head and make them come to life…and be as beautiful as the blue skies. And that is priceless..because every lie, every bondage, every jealousy over “what I can do” released and I get the privilege of living.

    • Ahhhh, yes, the difference between “cost” and “value.” Always an interesting discussion. I’m glad you found a happy solution. It sounds as if it brought you a lot of satisfaction and joy.

  5. It is mixed for me. Because I have my website ( which is all about creativity and art and encouraging people to play, it seems like my world is always full of playing and creating, and it is fun for the most part, but it is really work. If I am trying to work on stuff for classes, it is play, but it is also work. Just to play for me and for no particular reason or outcome, well that doesn’t happen too often these days. All in all, I love what I do so I guess that makes it fun.

    • I think the important thing to consider: “Just to play for me and for no particular reason or outcome, well that doesn’t happen too often these days” For no particular reason. Good definition of play.

  6. “Fun” is often associated with creativity, and it’s very seldom associated with, for example, “importance”. Fun is also associated with youth and childhood. Importance is associated with maturity and responsibility.

    When I think about words like maturity, responsibility, and importance, they feel antithetical to fun and creativity. Growing up, you’re expected to start doing “important” things in place of what you’re doing, which is called “play”. I remember specifically being admonished that “you’re too old to be playing with those toys; do something important”. At the time I was trying to build a computer out of tinker toys, and I’ve always, for some reason, been able to ignore what people say. (BTW the computer worked in its way; I just had no access to electronics in the 70s.)

    Art, science, math, and some aspects of technology, as professions or fields, tend to accept and reward things like creativity and a childlike aspect pretty openly. Importance may be there but it’s only decided later. Pomposity is laughed at. This isn’t universal; there are pompous, self-important artists, scientists, and hackers, but they’re unusual enough to stand out. Maybe there’s a turning point early in life where you somehow choose between “creative” and “important”, and that makes all the difference.

  7. Both! Why not? When I get in front of the table, my sewing machine is “watching” me…then my acrylic colors, then…I never know what exactly is going to be until I sit and see what I feel like at the moment. I’m not seeing this as something I HAVE TO DO, but rather like something that fulfils my soul, my emotions, my state of mind at the moment, something “calling” me to create. I guess that’s one of the reasons I quit my job (I was a bank officer, imagine!) and started to do what I love: playing with words (I’m an editor, writer, translator), I don’t really have to do something called work, my “translation time” is so pleasant for me that I don’t feel like I’m working, it’s more creating. And so I begin to have more time for myself and for what I didn’t even knew I love: ART! In any way possible!
    So, for me is not work as a job I have to do it, it’s more something pleasant, connecting to my soul, day dreaming activity, time flies when I’m “working”. 😉 It is a play? Maybe sometimes, I don’t know. A part of me tends to be (still) a little kid playing, and I guess (if not quite sure about it) that every artist has a child inside that helps creating things, regardless of what that thing is.

    big hugs,

    • It’s a really interesting question when we consider the possibilities–what defines work? Money? Satisfaction? Producing something that others can learn? So much depend on viewpoint.

Join the conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.