Monthly Meditation: Mist, Chaos, and Playfulness

The opposite of play isn’t work. The opposite of play is depression.

—Brian Sutton-Smith

The focus of the Mist-month is the lerale of Chaos—and the virtue of humour/playfulness.

Playfulness… is underrated.

How many of us learned, growing up, that playfulness is silly and wrong and a waste of time? That to spend time on games and jokes was to waste it? I know I did.

But playfulness, I think, at its core, is the sense of security—the sort of security that allows you to try and fail and try again. Because you don’t take yourself too seriously, because failure doesn’t shatter your self-image, because you laugh in the face of chaos and get up. That willingness to fail, which we learn and train by playing, is what lets us learn new skills and stay productive at work. 

(Unless maybe you’re a sapper or a skydiver. In which case you’ll need humour to stay sane in the face of other people’s failures.)

The artwork for this month: “Portrait of the artist as a mocker” by Joseph Ducreux

This self-portrait of Ducreux is now an Internet meme. There’s something unexpected and funny about an 18th century gentleman making faces. 

…Ducreux was a professional portrait painter who lived through the French revolution. I imagine he must’ve had fun painting these grimaces. But the reason he painted them, hilarious as they are, was to study facial expressions, to expand beyond the usual solemn stares of the traditional portraits. 

It’s darn hard to draw smiles, by the way—this is where faces, both 2D and 3D, most often hit the uncanny valley. I personally still have to get a character to produce a smile that doesn’t inspire terror. 

I wonder how many sketches Ducreux had to laugh at before he managed this portrait?

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