Albers also celebrated the role of play in the creative process. She believed that a spontaneous and experimental approach to hues, patterns, and materials inspired meaningful work. In a 1941 article, “Handweaving Today: Textile work at Black Mountain College,” she proposed that artists start works with “a playful beginning, unresponsive to any demand of usefulness, an enjoyment of colors, forms, surface contrasts and harmonies—a tactile sensuousness.”
In the environment of the Bauhaus, Albers recalled
, “uninhibited play with materials resulted in amazing objects, striking in their newness of conception in regard to use of color and compositional elements.” This method, in which all mediums and processes were game, was especially valuable to beginners who were developing their own aesthetic. Albers believed it also built self-confidence in young artists: “Courage is an important factor in any creative effort,” she wrote in “Weaving at the Bauhaus.” “It can be most active when knowledge in too early a stage does not narrow the vision.”
In her own practice, Albers embraced play through injecting spontaneity and creativity into the highly technical process of weaving, where the loom dictated many aesthetic decisions. She experimented with unorthodox metal threads, for instance, and often improvised shapes and compositions as she wove, rather than religiously following a pattern. Albers even nodded directly to her reverence of play in the title of one work, Play of Squares
(1955). The textile shows a labyrinth of white and deep-brown squares, organized seemingly haphazardly—without a predictable, overarching formula. Scholar Virginia Gardner Troy pointed out in a 1999 essay
that the piece “evokes an ambiguous arrangement of words and letters (a play of words) or of musical notes (a play of sounds).” The spirit of playfulness also led Albers to experiment with other mediums, like
, where she fashioned imaginative wearable art from everyday objects like bottle caps, strainers, and paperclips.
Albers also saw playfulness in the work of her artist heroes. In her famous instructional book On Weaving (1965), she described the textiles made by Peruvian weavers (whom she referred to as her “greatest teachers”) as “infinite phantasy within the world of threads, conveying strength or playfulness, mystery or the reality of their surroundings, endlessly varied in presentation and construction, even though bound to a code of basic concepts.”