One day during Spring Break I had the pleasure of viewing an exhibition of book illustrations by Salvador Dali. Dali was a Surrealist, an artist whose works featured oddly grouped, often distorted and even more often surprising combinations of objects. Though the subjects of the illustrations (e.g. Alice in Wonderland, Don Quixote) were familiar to me, Dali’s images provoked close scrutiny, occasional squinting, frequent confusion, distaste and delight. This was an exhibit that could not be passively observed – it was necessary to jump in and play along with each picture.
Games, playfulness and openness to unexpected outcomes were integral to the work of Surrealists, and the exhibit I attended included hands-on games and activities that invited patrons to play with props and art materials. One that I tried involved a large, wooden box, about two feet tall, with a layer of paper hidden on the bottom and a couple slits cut in the top. I used a cue-style stick with a crayon on the end to draw inside the box, unable to see what I was drawing or fully control the yard-long crayon. It was silly and frustrating, and forced me to be random and freer in my composition. I pulled the paper out of the bottom when I was finished, and what I saw made me smile. It was not something I would have created intentionally, but it was original and dynamic and it made me smile.
Recently, in a conversation about our desire to encourage girls to take risks in their learning, to be unafraid of making mistakes and to grow from the process as much the outcome, one of our teachers stated, “Students should be comfortable with the idea that at times it is okay if they don’t completely understand something. We have to encourage them to ‘play’ with an idea and work at finding solutions.” Our girls want to do well, and that is what we want for them, of course. But original thinking, creative problem solving, depth of understanding, synthesis and analysis...all of these will be required of them in their grown-up lives, and often they are achieved by muddling, untangling, tinkering, stumbling, erasing, reframing, questioning, turning upside down, and yes, playing. Extraordinary results await.