Apes, Play & Sticky Stuff

3 Dec

‘Play is the Glue that Binds us together’    Isabel Behncke 




At the moment the huge Horse Chestnut tree in my back garden looks like a skeleton, devoid of all its muscles and sinews. However,  its leafy disrobing has meant I get to see what is happening within it more easily. Yesterday morning, the sun having just risen, I was much amused to see three squirrels there. They were scurrying and leaping and shooting from one branch to another, their tails twitching. Jumping with gay abandon they leapt from one tenuous branch to another, sometimes barely hanging onto each wood-limb with their claws. They weren’t thinking, they were just following their instincts. They were being spontaneous, joyful; it even looked like frivolity. It looked as if there was nothing restricting their thoughts or their movements. They looked fearless and energetic and literally just following their tails. First and foremost they were being PLAYFUL. It was a joy to watch, and from whom, as creative beings, we could learn.

BonoboIsabel Behncke, an animal behaviourist, by profession, studied the Bonobo monkeys (our closest ape relatives) and studied how they played. She filmed female apes amorously chasing their male partners around – turning round and round in happy circles  and another ape in contrast quietly sitting beside a pond staring into space letting her hand gently ripple the water  beside which she was sitting. Being playful and imaginative is clearly deeply ingrained in us. It’s our inheritance, our evolutionary being. In order for us to be all that we can be we need to consistently be able to tap back into this. Laughing, feeling free, being silly helps us transcend  ourselves and connect to something that is lighter, deeply human and beyond our external reality.  Life, if we allow play in, like the Bonobo,  can be more spontaneous and creative. If we play and create we extend outwards.

Here’s Behncke’s TED Talk:

Creativity and play are closely interlinked; indeed, some people would say inextricably, and I would like to suggest , in our present climate that they have never been more important. With recessions knocking at all our doors all over the world ; all of us having to pull our belts in, democracy and freedom constantly challenged by governments and social resistance, being frivolous and playful and creative has never been more important. In order for us to adapt to an ‘increasingly challenging world’ , says  Behncke ‘we need greater creativity and greater cooperation’ (TED Talk , see video above). Some even say we are in a ‘Creativity crisis‘. 

In this post I want to lightly explore playfulness and creativity, and to do so through art and poetry. What is playfulness? How is it linked to creativity?,  and how is this play translated into art and literature, and then how is it perceived? Why is it then sometimes considered ‘lightweight’ or not as worthy?  This is all the more curious when you think that play is the bedrock  on which we stand when we build relations as a child. It is through running and jumping, playing ‘your it’;  catching crisp leaves in the autumn breeze that we  expand our  worlds as  children.  Through play  we learn tolerance, co-operation and reach out and operate within social norms. We also explore, imagine; try things out and learn what makes us tick.

PlayOr was I  the only one who joyfully  smeared themselves with rainbow coloured paint, or pretended they  were a detective?  I remember the joyful anticipation of going on imaginary sleuthing adventures. I  used to sling my  sleuthing belt on (equipped with magnifying glass, torch and Jaffa Cakes, and skulk around my neighboured capturing thieves  and creating monsters).  I role played without a second thought. And role play, some say, is a key initiator of creativity (Tim Brown).  As children we easily step outside of ourselves and into other worlds. Imagination and spontaneity are there, unadulterated by reason, in gay abandon. It’s as if  growing towards adulthood takes this inclination away from us (unless we deliberately nurture it); and, I think play allows us to do this.

So, for the sake of context,  here are some definitions:

play-the conduct, course of action of  a game, absence of serious harm or intent, spontaneous activity

playfulness connecting without inhibition

To create- to bring into evidence, to invest with a new form, to produce or bring about, to produce through imaginative skill;  


Look at the words:  ‘action’, ‘game’ , ‘spontaneous’, ‘connecting’, ‘bringing’, ‘producing’, ‘making’ without inhibition. The former words underpin  imagination, freedom, and intention.  These are  the good words that we as adults have to cultivate and work at because, as we get older,  we become gradually more inhibited, more sensitive to how we are perceived (don’t we?). Think how we titter uncomfortably when we do role-plays at work ? But as creatives I think it’s vital to tap right into this feeling of  discomfort for we need to make connections in order to create; we need to think outside of the box and be playful. This is how new pieces are created, how we become inspired and change the world.

It is through play and experimentation that we juxtapose and make associations. It’s how we put one shape alongside each other and realise it’s turned into a house. It’s how we put one colour seemingly jarring up against another by accident and realise the colours create a whole -something that exists and challenges.

This is how many artists and indeed writers create new forms and worlds:  they play with elements, textures and images; they bring into existence something new that challenges our expectations and changes our relationship to our surroundings. They create something new that can on the surface seem light, frivolous, but I would argue, underneath is nevertheless challenging and unique.

So here are 3  pieces of art to consider. All three artists have been labelled  ‘playful’  or chosen to be labelled as such :

A piece by Niki De Saint Phalle ,  Homage to an Artist



Mark Reigalman, an urban artist


Apple Head Girl by Angie Mason, with her playful visions art




What similarities do they have? They all  use  bright colours, tangible humour, overt contrasts to make their points zing out. The artists have all chosen seemingly ‘simple’ representations of their complex subject matter.  They use playful juxtapositions of form and context (the blue dove on the telephone pole, the big apple-heart-head, the sun-woman) to explore and challenge the space between  art and life.  The decision to be playful is a knowing one and the spontaneity and life-force of each work shakes our perception far more powerfully than anything cultivated or more traditionally presented. Humour about serious subjects. Exposes. 


Captive Escape by Amanda Beck Mauck

Captive Escape by Amanda Beck Mauck

  Phalle (now deceased) plays with  the nature of womanhood through basic forms; and, the power of this  has been formerly acknowledged  (See Article), Reigalman’s  urban forms play  subtly with notions of nature and beauty in an urban context. His work has been seen as ‘playful & thought-provoking’ ( Web Urbanist);  and Mason, in her engagement with love,  has exuberantly even called her art  ‘beautiful imperfections’ (a word-play oxymoron in itself) and her site ‘a visual playground’ (See link above). 

The above artworks are not inhibited in any way. You sense their  exuberance and spirit,  the  child-like quality and intention that connects the artists  to the very essence of the human spirit- self expression and freedom. They play with our expectations as a child would play in a playground.  They re-invent and challenge. 

Creativity is about having the courage to invent our lives. Creativity is about our capacity to experience the core of our being and the full range of our humaneness. The question of how to become more creative is not about learning anything, or even doing anything, but about allowing whatever arises to gain expression. To do this we must bypass the voice inside that says stop.

(Nina WiseA Big New Free, Happy, Unusual Life,  p4, )

Clearly no ‘stop-voice’ was heard by any of the three artists above. In a world driven by bureaucracy and institutions that are attempting to inhibit and control our lives and individual expression  not being afraid to let that out into the world has never been more necessary;  regardless of skill, experience or inhibitions. It’s about playing and trying new things and letting that feed your creativity and soul without any dictates.

As children it didn’t really matter what we played with. Randomness ruled, finding and creating unexpected connections stimulated new ways of seeing without force. Cultivating playfulness, embracing it in adulthood and through our creativity can do the same, and it’s how we show our individuality. Play, experimenting, is how we try out things; it’s how we learn the rules of the game; learn how to foster co-operation. 

Poet Roger McGough in his electronic poem Now Press Return examines the very nature of the playfulness of creativity. His piece  continuously incorporates lines that change form and words that reform, responding to  prompts from the user behind the screen. Here is a video of his piece :

Words morph, alter shape, questions are asked and answered and each time a new, spontaneous experience emerges.  A new humorous creation each time  This is playfulness and creativity embodied, and it works as a form and within the form, like the artists above.

Life is difficult. All of us are being curbed right left and centre in our different countries and by our individual situations. Being playful like the squirrels in my Horse Chestnut tree, , and letting other people be playful (without judgement) is key to us escaping this constriction- and roots us in notions of liberty, connection and experience in all it glorious multi-faceted wonder.



If you have any tales of adult playfulness and creativity you’d like to share we’d  love to hear them!


As always, thank you for your interest. Feedback is always welcomed! And if you’d like to get involved with ArtiPeeps do get in touch via the reply box or @ArtiPeep



  • This Friday (7th)  Look Out for  our first post by our new Music Correspondent TANIA HALBAN
  • And be prepared for our next guest blog with  KATE GARRETT on Monday 17th on performance poetry!
  • Our last collaborative blog, HALLOWEEN HOTCHPOTCH was such a success we’re doing another one for Christmas. Set to go out on Friday 21st December! 3 poets, 3 artists paired in a collaboration. What could be better!
  • Oh yes, and the ‘VISITOR PEEP PAGE’ is now vacant if anyone would like to use this space creatively for a month for a platform for their work. DO get in touch. It’s open to everyone. For more details click here!

4 Responses to “Apes, Play & Sticky Stuff”

  1. orwell531 December 3, 2012 at 5:40 pm #

    This is a courageous , perceptive, true piece of work. I liked every word of it and you gave me courage to play on.

    • ArtiPeep December 3, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

      Orwell531, Thank you for your comment and keep on playing :-)!

      Sent from my iPod

  2. ArtiPeep December 4, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    Thanks Madelyn for ‘liking’ my piece and for the pingback. The TED talk is stimulating isn’t it? and the interactive poem makes a real change from the norm. Really appreciate your visit and interest in ArtiPeeps and hope you come back! There’s always lots afoot! All the very best. Play on :).


  1. How Cheap, really, IS talk? « ADD . . . and-so-much-more - December 4, 2012

    […] Apes, Play & Sticky Stuff (artipeeps.wordpress.com) – includes an imbed of a very cool TED talk on Creativity and an interactive poem to play with – DO check it out! […]

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