A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play

Returning to Play

Inspiration Quote

At one of those college fairs in high school I remember my mom talking to a recruiter from an art school. The standard parent might try to dissuade their children from going that route for fear of the starving artist fate. Instead, my mom went on about how I drew an elephant or something and it was the most incredible thing she had ever seen #thanksmom. At the time, the vision I had of my future self was anything but a starving artist. My pursuit of perfection and  “success” blinded me to the possibility that art, play, and creativity could be part of my work. There was even a time I thought I wanted to be a lawyer—enough said.

Cherryblossom painting in acrylicI can’t remember exactly when I started painting and drawing again, but I quickly classified these as weekend activities and put them (quite literally) in a box I would get out and store in rhythm with the weekend workweek flow. It was as if I thought work time had to be hard or taxing to count. Surely this fun and carefree Tracy couldn’t be “working”.

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play

“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.”

– François-René de Chateaubriand

We are guilty of the same misclassification in our schools, cutting out art, music,  and free play for fear students don’t have enough time to “learn”—when that is exactly what they are doing through play. What might our students learn when we give them time to play without specific structure and direction? What might we, as educators, learn and model to our students as we play and experiement ourselves?

Sugata Mitra Sketchnotes

One of my own experiments started recently, when I began to play with sketchnotes, visual note taking, or whatever you want to call it—and bingo! It didn’t take long to figure out this was clearly compatible with the way my mind worked. I had really been doing a rudimentary form of it for a long time. I just didn’t know it had a name, gurus (@Braddo, @AustinKleon, @MikeRohde to name a few), books, and a whole movement of folks who also thought, created, and reflected in this way. Playing with this medium of reflection and making connections has not only had a positive impact on the work I’m doing, but even the spirit with which I approach work.

Amateur Austin Kleon Quote

Austin Kleon, in his stellar book, Show Your Work, defines the amateur as “the enthusiast who pursues her work in the spirit of love.”

When someone is talking about me and my work, I hope that can be said.

I hope to see educators approach teaching and students, learning, with a spirit of love: I believe a big part of that will come when we learn to play again. When we allow ourselves to be amateurs at something again. When we learn to experiment and create and provide time and space for our students to do the same.

So, as we gear up for a new school year… What will you experiment with that will encourage you to play?

Some ideas for play this school year:

  • Test driving new technology

  • Redesigning your learning space

  • Learning some basic coding skills

  • Implementing a new teaching technique

  • Connecting with educators across the globe

  • Updating your centers, activities, or a couple lessons

  • Giving students the freedom to work in new mediums

  • Scheduling “play dates” with a friend to try out new things

  • Drawing, doodling, playing with art or testing out sketchnotes

  • Taking an online course in something you’ve always wanted to learn



Last night at a hip, modern (I think) art show in Austin a guy walked over and asked me and a friend to share our thoughts on what art is to us. I immediately retreated, literally back-stepping, and said, “Umm..I am shy. Maybe later…” knowing full well I would hightail it out of there before he found me again.

Fast-forward to 5:30 this morning when I got up and finished this painting of Mount Kilimanjaro. It is for my Aunt–in honor of my cousin who passed away suddenly this year. Soon before his passing he realized his life long dream of climbing to the summit.

In honor of my cousin, Todd Miller.

In honor of my cousin, Todd Miller. I thought about why I was afraid to answer the man’s question…I thought about why I am often reluctant to share my thoughts concerning things I don’t feel “qualified” to have a say about. You see, the type of art last night was very “different” from the art I am used to–no less beautiful of course, just different, and the conversations surrounding much of it seemed so far from my reach (not to mention I was definitely the only one in bootcut jeans and a ponytail).So, although I can’t go back and buck up and let the dude video my response here it is..

To me (at least today), art fills in the gaps where words can’t go. It offers a reflection of a time, a memory, a person, an emotion that can’t be described with words. It’s as if it fills in the holes within the words or shades the space within the letters to weave an incredible something that couldn’t have been there before. It transforms a feeling or an emotion into something entirely new and connects across language, social status (sometimes) and division. It can be therapy, comfort, catharsis.

Even the art I “don’t get”, I want to get…or at least apply my own meaning to it and understand the perspective of others. I like the challenge of being faced with seemingly random mixed media postcards and trying to understand what the artist was thinking when he created them. Art is…whatever the heck people want it to be–that’s why it is awesome!

In the edtech world, art and creativity just take a different form. Infographics have been my media of choice recently and the same creativity that launched me towards taking what was a boring list for a district into an infographic/thinglink combination influenced by a variety of minds, blogs, learning, reading and conversation… is the same creativity that glides onto my canvas when inspiration strikes and I look at other paintings, pictures and combine colors and shade mountain crevices and think about an imaginary sun and how its beams would hit the mountain.

So today I’ll post this on my blog and “ship it” even thought I’d like to edit it a hundred more times.
And tonight I’ll give my Aunt art where I have no words and hope it can fill in the gaps.
In honor of my cousin, Todd Miller.

In honor of my cousin, Todd Miller. The original painting by James Zeger can be found at his incredible site jameszegerart.com Special thank you to James for responding to my request to show my much more amateur reflection of his original work of art! Your talent is breathtaking!