Year 5, Piece Twenty-Nine: 3. Red Yellow

Remain an artist. Toy Power.

Among the toys that I spend so many hours of my life managing and sorting and rearranging and complaining about, there seems to be a preponderance of red and yellow ones. Many are either red or yellow, but many are both red and yellow. In fact it seems that Red Yellow is probably the most popular color combination among our toys, maybe any toys. Why?

Red and Yellow are both primary colors. They are also both warm colors. Red and Yellow don’t overlap so there is a good deal of contrast, but they aren’t quite opposites either. Both are pure, bright, and attention-grabbing. Both say “look at me!” And maybe both say “buy me?” 

Red is body, blood, the physical realm. Yellow is power, will, saying yes. Red Yellow is Body Power. Or maybe something more like Physicality Power? The power of the material world. The power of inanimate objects. The power of toys.

When I look at toys, I see a mess. I see one more thing that I’ll have to deal with, in perpetuity. I see entropy. I see mass production and conspicuous consumption and waste and anxiety. 

Okay, I don’t only see those things. I also see fun and pleasure and charm and warmth. But I can tell you that when kids look at toys, they see something that I don’t anymore. 

Much has been said on this subject in the narrative realm, where Disney franchises like Toy Story or Doc McStuffins are born. The magical connection between kids and toys, the connection that breaks in adolescence when apparently your imagination breaks too.

But isn’t that depressing? I fancy myself an adult that is pretty in touch with their imagination. If I dare quote Pablo Picasso, he said something like: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” I resonate with that. I mean, how much of my time do I spend thinking about rainbows, for fuck’s sake? But while we could perhaps classify the time I spend making art as some form of deep play, it’s not the same as imaginative play. Arranging a pile of red and yellow toys and moving them around in front of my camera is not the same as imagining that I occupy a shared reality with some living form of those toys. And that is a huge difference. 

I marvel at the sheer capacity that kids have for play. Even as D slowly outgrows imagining that her toys are actually alive, these things become props for her more and more elaborate role-playing games, rich with symbol sets and casts of characters. Her imagination seems boundless, and her stamina for any given game is just so much stronger than mine will ever be again. I relish the sheer creativity of what she comes up with. Yet while we are playing together, I often find myself trying to figure out how I can incorporate a quick nap into the game and not have it break her fantasy (you can do a surprising amount of parenting while lying down, I have found). I can pretend to play pretend, but I am just not there in the same way that is. 

Summer is winding down, and right now we’re eating red tomatoes and yellow lemons from our shared garden. It feels like such a gift to be able to eat these real living things that grew from the very soil we sleep on. Food gives us life. In play, kids give toys life. Toys aren’t able to hold that life, so maybe it goes right back to the kids. 

If Red is blood, then Yellow is the electric current that keeps it pumping. In play, kids take the Red of the physical world and bring it to life with Yellow. A wooden tomato or a felt lemon aren’t real food, but not all hunger can be fixed with calories. The need for imaginative play is something different, something that kids have the power to feed themselves.  

But remember, no matter the object, it’s all future trash.