An ode to play – A painting by Pieter Bruegel


Recently I have been doing a lot of reading about mindfulness and what brings out spontaneous creativity in the individual – fascinating stuff and it has all been very helpful to me.

One piece I read was by journalist and psychologist Otje van de Lelij in Flow magazine, where the importance of play throughout our lives is discussed. As part of that article Pieter Bruegal’s 1560 painting Children’s Games was mentioned, and so I decided to sit for a while and examine it, something I hadn’t done before although I was familiar with the painting.

The painting is said to be an encyclopedia of more than 70 games that were played in the 16th century, including blind man’s bluff, leap frog and horsey, people spinning tops, climbing trees and one riding a broom, but what I hadn’t really noticed before, (and I encourage you to have a look at a larger version of the painting) is that the people playing these games seem to be adults rather than children.

Perhaps the message that Bruegel is trying to portray is that play is an essential part of who we are – if we give up playing we give up fun and spontaneity. As Adjiedj Bakas has written, “…playing is not done with any particular goal in mind, but just to have fun and to be yourself completely.”

Playing makes one feel good and when you are having fun Otje van der Lelij suggests, you become a sponge, soaking up new information, inspiring learning and creativity. Anthropologist Johan Huizinga one said that play was the basis of all culture and that without play, there would be no culture, no civilisation.

Pablo Picasso once said : “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up”.

I intend to play more……… Perhaps so should you! :))


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