Monday, March 16, 2015
why do grown-ups play with LEGO?
living vicariously through blog posts and instagram shots of the opening of the in LEGO, we connect exhibition a week or so ago at the bryan ohno gallery in seattle, i've found myself once again pondering the whole love of LEGO among adults. when i started working on this question in earnest a year ago, i think that one could still detect a slight sheepishness among some of the adults who loved LEGO. but that may have been my own uninitiated perspective.
today, i believe thanks (at least in part) to the LEGO movie, it seems that love of LEGO is everywhere. people get enormous and colorful LEGO tattoos (and they must be adults, since you have to be 18 (or at least reasonably look it) to get a tattoo). gizmodo writes about LEGO regularly and so do the folks at geekwire. there are elderly folks using LEGO to keep their fingers and their memories nimble. there are serious blogs, discussing the LEGO community at a rather academic level. and blogs analyzing in minute detail every new LEGO brick and color. thousands of grown up people around the world are unapologetically and even proudly devoting their precious spare time to their LEGO hobby.
there are also some folks who love LEGO who are making a business of it in grand style. people like ryan "the brickman" mcnaught in australia. warren elsmore in the uk. nathan sawaya in new york. these are folks who took their hobby and made it their very successful businesses. and they think they're lucky to get to play with LEGO for a living, there's no sheepishness in sight. as well there shouldn't be.
i wonder if this embracing of a childhood toy in adulthood is something unique to our times? we all want to hold onto our youth these days. and we do so in the form of elements of pop culture. so i find myself singing along to the same songs on the radio as my 14-year-old does and i too want urban decay eyeliner. and i want to play with LEGO minifigures. granted, i play with them differently now that i would have as a child (i say would have, because i didn't really play with LEGO as a child, i had a pony, after all). and my method of play - taking photos of them "in the wild" - actually rather embarrasses my child, who isn't that keen on me arranging marge simpson on a shelf next to a cup at ikea. so it is something other than holding onto my youth, at least for me, since playing LEGO wasn't a part of my youth.
but what is it? is playing with LEGO just like any other hobby? like flying radio controlled planes? or building model trains? or quilting? or painting or any other creative hobby? why do so many more men indulge in the hobby than women? can it be taken seriously? is it art? the three showing their LEGO photos in the gallery are daring to think so. and their photos are each marvelous in their own very different ways. and i think that's some pretty cool boundary-pushing.