Q1: Why is it called Painting-Play and not just painting? A: Arno Stern wrote: “Painting art belongs to the artists. Painting-Play belongs to everyone else.” Art is a dialogue between an artist and an audience. Painting-Play is personal process, painting purely for pleasure, without any external expectations or goals. Just as the intangible freedom, joy and learning in the playground, drama, music or sports domain cannot be packaged up and taken home, Painting-Play cannot be taken home.
Q2: I still don’t understand. Why can’t we take the paintings home? A: Well, firstly, they will still be wet on the day you painted them. Secondly, let’s think about what happens when a child or older person takes home a painting or other artwork from school or an art class. The artwork may be greeted with joy, admiration, pride and a promise to display it, which might make the artist happy and keen to replicate the experience, therefore painting with his/her audience in mind the next time they are in the Closlieu. This desire to please another person drastically limits the painter’s likelihood of tapping into their own unique and precious inner voice. On the other hand, the artwork may be met with indifference, confusion or even disdain, which can obviously be demoralising and discouraging. (This is a story I hear regularly from adults who still feel scarred by a similar childhood experience.) Even if the family is well-intentioned and encouraging, at some point, there may be too many artworks to store, so they end up in the “recycling” bin. How does that make the artist feel? It’s for this reason that I carefully archive the paintings by date and name, so that they are always available for the painter or invited family and friends to access. Painters often revisit paintings from their archive, to extend or add details to them, which would often be impossible if they had taken them home.
Q3: If we aren’t allowed to take the paintings away, is there another takeaway? A: I hold on to the paintings carefully, so they can be viewed or revisited by participants in the Closlieu at any time, either during a session or by appointment. I also compile a digital portfolio. The reason we don’t let the paintings leave the room is to safeguard the non-judgemental values of the space. The paintings are made in good faith that there will be no comments, so there is a contract of trust that must be honoured. If a child or adult took a painting home, and it was admired or criticised by someone else, then the purity of the process and the sanctity of the space is destroyed. A Closlieu is a space unlike any other and has to be carefully preserved, both physically and metaphorically in the heart and mind of participants even when they are not in it. They know that this safe space is waiting to welcome them again. The takeaways in Painting-Play may be intangible, but nevertheless valuable: creativity, confidence, self-actualisation, an ability to be both autonomous and trust and collaborate with others of all ages. The list goes on.
Q4: How will I know if my child is making progress? A: That all depends on what you mean by progress. Painting skills will undoubtedly develop with practice, but this is not an observational drawing class. Painters will be able to gradually access their own innate visual language (la formulation) and this naturally brings pleasure to people of all ages. Creativity will develop exponentially as they naturally explore their imaginations free of instruction and judgement. As a result, their confidence and sense of self will grow. If you would like to see what your child has been painting, please ask me to ask your child’s permission. If they agree, I will then set up an appointment for you to see the paintings without him/her present. Likewise if as an adult, you would like someone else to view your paintings, this can be arranged by appointment – either in person or virtually.
Q5: Is Painting-Play art therapy? A: No. Although it resembles some types or art therapy and may provide similar benefits, it is not to be confused with analytical or diagnostic art therapy. However, it has been suggested that if you do Painting-Play, you are less likely to need therapy!
Q6: Can you explain more about the ‘no comment’ atmosphere? One of the fun rules of Painting-Play is that we can talk about anything in the Closlieu – except the paintings! Of course you won’t get into trouble if you do, but I will gently guide you towards a more non-judgemental stance. This was hard for me at first, as an experienced art teacher and mother and proponent of positive reinforcement, but I assure you, you can do it too with practice! I believe there is a place for traditional art lessons, but I am convinced that there is also a need for a “space” (physical or metaphorical) in which there is no “audience” for what you are creating. No one to impress or make happy. No risk of comparison or criticism. How rare it is to be able to paint simply for oneself and for the pleasure and spontaneity of it, without inhibition or fear of judgement. I meet so many adults who upon hearing that I am/was an artist or art teacher almost visibly crumble with shame and tell me “Oh I can’t draw for peanuts/toffee etc”, “I’m terrible at drawing” “I haven’t got an artistic bone in my body” etc etc. Somehow I hope that Painting-Play can open up a whole new world of possibilities for us to celebrate each human being’s unique value.
Q7: What does a typical session look like? A: A typical session will start with a welcome and a brief introduction to the concept and then we will all put lab coats or old shirts over our clothes and move through to the Closlieu studio. Participants take a piece of paper and choose where they would like to paint. They hold it up to the wall and I begin to attach the paper. They can then approach the table-palette in the middle of the room and take a brush, dip it in the water, dip it in its matching paint colour and take it to their paper to paint. Afterwards it becomes almost a dance: moving between paper and table-palette, making space for others, dipping brushes and pinning papers. It sounds strange, but it works! Of course I am there to help. At the end of the session, once the paintings are dry, I date stamp and name each painting. Some participants are prolific, some won’t even fill a page. Everyone works at their own pace over the 60-90 minutes. When the paintings are dry, I archive them safely in vacuum sealed bags. Next session, participants may want to start a new painting or add to a previous one. Some paintings grow to fill whole walls over a long period of playing! (I have step ladders!)
Q8: How would a session with a 3 year old differ from one with a 7 year old? How would you keep a small child engaged for 1-1.5 hrs if the intention is independent painting? A: Little ones (under 7 or so) may not want to paint for the whole 90 minutes, but their older siblings or parents might. So for that reason, I provide other safe, creative and non-judgemental activities, such as books, blocks and blackboard/whiteboard or simple drawing in the adjacent space. My job is to serve you ALL, so that you can all enjoy the space and the creative process equally. Attention spans differ from person to person and in my experience, young children are not always more likely to have short ones! Hopefully with my attentive facilitation, you will be able to focus on your painting and your child will be able to focus on his/hers for a while, maybe take a break and come back. We can play it by ear.
Q9: Why do you want us to sign up for more than one session? A: The first time can feel a little odd for a person to not get the usual kind of teacher-student/parent-child feedback but it doesn’t usually take long to settle into the new paradigm. This is why I encourage you to commit to a series of sessions. Arno Stern is so famous in France and beyond that he has no trouble getting people to commit to an entire year and he would insist on no trial or short courses, as he has seen with his own eyes how difficult it can be for people to adjust to the lack of direction or feedback, especially if they are older and have been more “schooled”. He has also seen the remarkable “progress” made by painting-players (or “les enfants du closlieu” – children of the closlieu) over time. Some have become artists. Others have simply become happy, balanced people! I am hoping to gently acclimatise Singapore to the concept of long-term practice.