Nachmanovitch talks about even the 'highest' forms of creativity as play.
Improvisation, composition, writing, painting, theatre, invention, all creative acts are forms of play, the starting place of creativity in the human growth cycle, and one of the great primal life functions. Without play, learning and evolution are impossible. Play is the taproot from which original art springs; it is the raw stuff that the artist channels and organises with all his learning and technique.
Creative work is play; it is free speculation using the materials of one's chosen form. Artists play with colour and space. Musicians play with sound and silence. Eros plays with lovers. Gods play with the universe. Children play with everything they can get their hands on.
'Play' is different from 'game'. Play is the free spirit of exploration, doing and being for its own pure joy. Game is an activity defined by a set of rules.... Play is an attitude, a spirit, a way of doing things, whereas game is a defined activity with rules and a playing field and participants (1990, 42-43).
As I write this out, I think of the the spontaneous, instinctive response to the flat colour and sweeping lines of a Japanese print, or the sight of brilliant blue seeping across a wet page. I contrast this with the activities and concerns involved in being a professional contemporary artist.
There is a German word, funktionlust, which means the pleasure of doing, of producing an effect, as distinct from the pleasure of attaining the effect or having something. Creativity exists in the searching even more than in the finding or being found. We take pleasure in energetic repetition, practice, ritual. As play, the act is its own destination. The focus is on process, not product. Play is intrinsically satisfying. It is not conditioned on anything else. Play, creativity, art, spontaneity, all these experiences are their own rewards and are blocked when we perform for reward or punishment, profit or loss.
This makes me think of Oliver Burkeman's column in the Saturday Guardian two weeks ago, where he discussed the difference between 'doing what you love', 'work, and 'paid employment'. Perhaps we're asking too much, he argues, to expect that what we do to earn money should also be 'deeply fulfilling'. This separation seems to provide food for thought. I can't see how you can ignore the rules of the public creative game if you choose to play it for a living. And I also can't really see how you can create in the spontaneous, open way that Nachmanovitch is talking about if you need your creation to pay for your groceries.
Play is without 'why'. It is self-existent.... Play is done that it is done. (45)