Aesthetic Realism Consultant, Writer, Poet (1919-1980)
Aesthetic Realism Class of March 29, 1948
Taught by Eli Siegel
Report by Sheldon Kranz
Last week, Mr. Siegel discussed play, and showed how it is related to work. He showed how Aesthetic Realism sees play as not opposed to work, and how both must be seen fully and accurately for a person to feel good.
“Play” Has a Purpose
"The purpose of play," said Mr. Siegel, "is to find an absence of seriousness in the world, and yet find the world worthy of respect." We can see this clearly in a child playing. He is having fun, but he is also serious about his game. We can see it in a kitten playing with a piece of twine. Too often, Mr. Siegel said, "people have felt that play is superfluous, superficial. They have not seen it having the same purpose as work. Aesthetic Realism says that gaiety is part of reality. If a person doesn't see the world gaily he doesn't see it sincerely. Gaiety is also after truth. Where it isn't, it is false and bad. Gaiety, as part of the world must be honored. But people use it not to respond wholly or truly to things. They use it as an evasion, as a way of getting away from accuracy and feeling. Seeing the light or ridiculous, said Mr. Siegel, does not mean we are not seeing the truth. Where we see gaiety, we are seeing the world not as an obstruction or an obstacle. People do not use either seriousness or gaiety as a way of knowing the world better, but simply for their own convenience.
Play and ArtHobbies, Mr. Siegel showed, are a form of play, but they are mostly misused. They are put in another territory from one's work. Art has been used as a hobby, as was shown in a newspaper article in the Tribune which Mr. Siegel discussed, where businessmen and professional people have more and more gone to art to relax. Art should not be seen as a hobby any more than drinking a glass of water or sleeping is, said Mr. Siegel. He continued: "If art were wholly understood, it would be seen as a necessity, as a deep means of expression." Art is seen as play, because it is the world seen as free. "The purpose of art," he said, is to give ourselves an outward form. But unless we like the world and are impressed with it, we won't express ourselves. If we are not impressed, we will have nothing to express." The hobby of art is good, but not complete, because the principle is not seen. Art should not be a substitute for life, as many have seen it, but as a completion of it. This needs knowledge, or it will not be complete.
Opposites in Play
If we look at play, as at a painting, we will see that opposites are put together. Mothers should understand the seriousness of a child's playing. There is seriousness and non-seriousness. There is heaviness and lightness. In painting, a person can feel very intense, and yet be enjoying himself immensely. Wherever there is activity or motion, there is play, but it can have strictness, too, as in chess. There is freedom, but there is also accuracy.
A Scene from Dickens' Pickwick Papers
To show how play can be furious and mirthful, and yet serious and concentrated, Mr. Siegel read the ice-sliding sequence from Dickens' Pickwick Papers. In this scene, Mr. Pickwick, Sam Weller and others slide along the ice again and again, having a fine time while others are ice skating. The sliding is gay and smooth, but Sam Weller’s special game called "knocking on the cobbler's door" shows defiance. The ice skating seems to be the most important thing in the world at that moment. There is seriousness in the play. "The whole book makes mirth deep as it should be," said Mr. Siegel. "Children know this."
Depth in Children’s Games
There is a deep desire for the world to make sense to us, to see it as orderly. This can be seen in the games children play. Mr. Siegel read several games and songs children play, showing how they are deep, as children are, and are about the most important things a person can deal with: the relation of himself or herself as one to the world seen as many. In "Green Gravel," the individual and collective are seen. Green gravel itself, is putting together smoothness and roughness. "The Mulberry Bush" is gay, but it is all about work. The two have been put together gracefully. "The Farmer in the Dell," shows the same thing. A hard working farmer is placed in a romantic place--a dell.
A Critical Poem
Mr. Siegel then read a poem of Sarah Cleghorn, "The Golf Links," which involves work and play. In this poem, children working hard at the mill can see the adults playing on the golflinks:
The golf links lie so near the mill,
That almost every day,
The labouring children can look out,
And see the men at play.
"A problem we all have," said Mr. Siegel, "is that to feel good we must feel we are not lessening the joy of others in enjoying things ourselves. Money is one way the world has said you can't play.
The other is something in all people who don't want to see play deeply. They are the people who stop others from playing, because they do not understand it. “Reality," Mr. Siegel said, "did not make the frisking lamb for nothing. There is the solid oak and the swaying grass. Both should be seen as real."
Opposition and Release
The self wants opposition and release, heaviness and lightness. Where opposition is preponderant, it seems to be work; where release is preponderant, it is play. Whatever the world does, though, we must see it as for us. We can then have a deep sense of play. The greatest humor is the most serious humor.
“Casey at the Bat”
Mr. Siegel ended with a reading of "Casey at the Bat," where freedom and discipline can be seen, tragedy and gaiety. In the tragedy of the baseball hero who struck out, there is humor and play. And he said, "Only when we can put these together will we be at ease in ourselves."