Are You an Artist?

I have often been asked if I am a dancer or an artist. This question always strikes me as a bit strange, because it comes after I have been observed dancing or sketching. Why would they ask me that the question, if they have been watching me doing it?
Barbara Dances at Vancouver Folk Festival

I used to answer yes, with the qualifying “but I ‘m not a professional” because I knew what they meant by the question…are you a real dancer or do you make a living this way.

Recently it occurred to me that the question gave me an opportunity to inform people that the arts do not belong to the realm of the “professional”, those people who have chosen to devote their lives to a particular art form. It gave me the opportunity to say, that in fact, the arts belong to all of us. We all have the potential to sing, draw, act, write, dance and make music. Now, when I am asked that question, I say yes, aren’t we all? and I enter into a brief discussion on the subject. I say brief because I am eager to get back to what I was doing before he or she approached me….dancing or drawing.

Sometimes I linger, and talk, telling the person how I have integrated the arts into my life, how the arts enable me to know myself, to express myself, to renew myself and to share myself in community with others. If he or she is really interested I take more time and explain how the arts help me live my life. (enrich my life)

When I am troubled or can’t make sense of what is going on in my life I can turn to my journal or my visual diary and let the words or the drawing tell me what I need to know In this way I gain self knowledge and self awareness. Both of my journals provide me with a safe place to express my thoughts, feeling and ideas.

When I write or work with art materials my whole being is fully involved in the creative process. My mind is focused on the task at hand as I create a story, a poem or a piece of art out of my imagination and my life experiences.

When I sit quietly and draw I am taken out of myself, out of the logical rational part of my brain and into the moment, into the beauty of my subject, whether that is a human being, a landscape or a flower close at hand. ..In this way I am removed from the pressures of my life.

When I dance, I unwind. I am fully present in the moment, at one with the music and my body. The music takes me out of my head and into my body, freeing my mind and connecting myself to my spirit, the essence of who I am, taking me to a place of utter joy and bliss, taking me home to myself…In this way I renew myself.

When I play in a drum circle or sing with friends I am connecting with other people in a profound way, blending my joy and bliss with theirs in community. We are all joining together in that moment, experiencing something wonderful and precious, and this is magic, the magic of people sharing themselves with each other.

As I walk through my life, wearing my many hats, teacher, mother, daughter, friend, I lose sight of my own needs and desires. The arts bring me back to myself, . connecting me to my spirit, .to.the essence of who I am. The arts bring balance into my life and this is wellness…this is health.. this is what it means to be human.

So if you happen to see me dancing or sketching, instead of asking me that question, join me and we’ll dance joyfully together or sit quietly side by side, sketching.

– Barbara Karmazyn

Artsplay and the Healthy Adult

Recently my 5 year old friend Matthew told me that grown ups are boring because all they do is work. Sadly I had to agree with him. Adults do work, that’s our job. Children play, that’s their job. How unfortunate that we lose this ability as we grow older. How sad that we become so serious, so wound up, so unbalanced.

The truth is that we need to play as much as the children, and fortunately, it is never to late to put it back into our lives. When we give ourselves permission to play,we give ourselves valuable gifts: the gift of relaxation and renewal, the gift of spontaneity, the gift of the imagination, the gift of the moment, the gift of timelessness, the gift of pleasure, and the gift of reclaiming the self.

A vital, life affirming way to re connect to the gifts of childhood play, is to use the tools of the artist that we were all born with…what I call artsplay. Mucking about with paint and play do, singing songs, dancing, playing dress up and bashing pots and pans are as natural to the young child as breathing. In these early stages of artistic development, children delight in the process of exploration, experimentation and discovery. We can go back to these early stages and re discover the pleasures of childhood. All that is required is a desire to play again. Approaching art from this willingness to play, eliminates the pressure of making “ real ” or “great” art, taking art out of the realm of the “professional” and bringing it back home to the self.

Play through artistic expression has the power of bringing balance and harmony into our lives. Drawing, painting, pottery, sculpting, writing, playing an instrument, singing and dancing removes us from the pressures of day to day life by tuning us in to the task at hand. The creative process takes us out of the logical left brain world where we spend so much of our time, and into the intuitive, imaginative right brain. During this process we are deeply connected to our own life force, expressing our feelings, releasing pent up emotions and tensions and making important discoveries about ourselves. Playing with others connects us to people in a profound way, joining and blending together in the moment, in community.

Approaching art through play, and play through art helps us to grow in new directions, and puts us in touch with the creative spirit, the essence of who we are. And it’s fun.

– Barbara Karmazyn 


*artsplay: Exploratory experiences in dance, music, art and stories

Artsplay Model

Many years ago I came up with the word artsplay to describe what I was doing in my work with young children. In my programs we played with art materials, sang, played with percussion instruments, made up stories and acted them out and we danced. I placed the emphasis on the experience itself not the end result. Artsplay is all about the process, the doing, the enjoyment, the exploration and the experimentation.

In my programs I wanted to give the children opportunities to express themselves through all of the art forms, for the simple pleasure of doing so.

I wanted the children, to experience the joy and pleasure of artsplay, and I wanted them to experience that with no pressure placed upon them. I knew from first hand experience that the pressures to produce or perform, or to do it a certain way, or to be criticized, or judged can destroy the creative spirit, and can have a damaging effect on the emotional well being of a child.

I created stimulating environments full of neat stuff to inspire and motivate the children. I used playful games and activities that gave them the freedom to explore and discover their creative spirit.

I placed the emphasis on the process of the doing, rather than the end result. I didn’t teach steps and patterns. I didn’t provide scripts and models. I didn’t tell them how to do something. I let them figure it out for themselves.  I provided the guidance and encouragement that they needed to feel comfortable enough to explore and experiment. The children thrived. As I began working with adults I continued to use the artsplay model. As with the children, the adults have thrived, and so will you.

– Barbara Karmazyn

*Trademark Disclaimer
As indicated in the above article, I have been using the word artsplay for over ten years. Back then I made a conscious decision not to trademark this word as I believed (and still do) that some words should belong to everybody.  I am aware that other people and organizations also use this word in a similar context. It is not my intention to take anything away from them, and I hope that I am not stepping on any “trademark” toes.  Since we are all doing the same work, I hope that I will be regarded as a colleague rather than a competitor.