Painting: The Seriousness of Having Fun

Painting: The Seriousness of Having Fun

I am listening to Ayana Zaire Cotton’s Seeda School teachings, and she says with pride that she wants to be good at what she does. Her pride and joy come from her understanding and participation in black feminist studies; I feel deeply connected with them. There is a knowledge that requires profound seriousness about what one is doing while, at the same time, having so much fun with it—deep enjoyment and pleasure.

I’ve found myself doing my best to embody and bring that feeling of joy to my students while I was at the university. One student, in particular, once tried to make fun of the systems of thinking I was practicing with them, and I very quickly and spontaneously told him: “I can’t force you to take this seriously.” It didn’t affect me, so I moved on to what I offered the whole group. It wasn’t embarrassing to the student. I know this because this student asked me to try again after others had done their presentations. And at the end of the semester, he wrote in his evaluations that I had taught him how to take his thinking seriously.

Our thinking and lives are serious, in the sense that they are important. We are not a joke. Those who joke seriously know that they are not kidding about themselves but joking to live life with joy. I think of my father and my grandparents, who laughed out loud to display their enjoyment with maximum vibrancy. Those loud laughs were intentional as much as there was honesty and spontaneity in them. They were moments of remembrance of the value of being together, the knowledge of being alive.  

To be serious about having fun sounds like an invented colonial paradigm. It feels like a fake paradox that puts distance between moments of “what matters” (work, knowledge, education – the work of men and the masculinity that rules our lives – the seriousness) and moments of “leisure” (hobbies, entertainment, where unfortunately most of human expressions like music, dance, theatre, literature, were isolated as “culture,” and the cosmetic contacts with “nature” through “hikes,” “camping,” etc – the fun). 

As someone who has been in school since I was two years old and only left academia one year ago, I feel these divisions strongly in my body.

I’ve noticed this week: While taking care of my children, I’m allowed to be out in nature the whole day. I can be in the park with them, and I can take them to do all sorts of things that I was only allowed to do while I was on school vacation or on holidays in the past. 

In my past, those rare moments dedicated to “leisure” and joy carried a weight. Rivers of feelings would come up, and the lack of true intimacy with family members who were constantly (like me) working or studying would become evident. In the colonial paradigm, only the privileged can take time to rest, have fun, and engage in “leisure.”

But then I remember: I enjoy my work. The fun that I have is full of seriousness. I laugh and rejoice while I learn and access true knowledge—not the masquerade of colonial teachings that get lost in not knowing even how to sustain their own arguments without citing others and bringing in names that are “oh so important.” There is work that I can do while I thrive in pleasure. 

As I think of what Zaire Cotton said, I want to conclude: I know the work that I’m doing is good when I’m having the most fun because this fun is the expression of the deep knowledge that only the pleasure of aliveness can create. This knowledge, the one that I believe is the TRUE knowledge, is what I want my paintings to show.