A perpetual-motion machine
Lego bricks are not just simple toys. They are a stimulus to story-telling. Jonathan Jones writes.india Updated: Dec 28, 2012 23:33 IST
Lego is the clay of the modern world, the stuff of creativity. You can shape it, unshape it, make worlds and smash them up to be replaced by new ideas. It's a perpetual-motion machine of kids' imaginations.
Today's Lego is very different from the Lego I played with when I was eight. For adults like me who grew up with simple Lego bricks and no instructions, just a free-for-all, the kits that now dazzle in their bright impressive boxes take some adjusting to. A puritan might well be troubled that this year's new Christmas Lego recreates the film The Hobbit in yet another addition to a popular culture repertoire that includes 'Marvel Superheroes' Lego and the ever-popular 'Star Wars' range.
The Danish toymaker is ruthless in its pursuit of mass entertainment. Harry Potter Lego was a major product - until the film series finished. This summer, it suddenly vanished from shops. I had to go to the Harry Potter Studios to get a Knight Bus.
Cool bus, though. Purple Lego! And it fits together in such a way that, when dropped or otherwise subjected to the rigours of play, the three floors of the bus neatly separate and can easily be reconnected. It is a kit, a toy, and a stimulus to story-telling.
Do not doubt the creative value of modern Lego. Making these kits isn't a fetishistic, sterile enterprise - children don't think like that. Rather, the ambition of the kits inspires children to aim high with their own crazy designs - the scenarios Lego provides stimulate inventive play. Children can tell stories with Lego, invest the fantastic mini-figures with names and characters, and build what they like after the models disintegrate. Above all, there is something innately humorous about Lego.
But is it art? It definitely teaches something about art. Like a three-dimensional sketchpad, Lego allows you to doodle in bright colours. It is 'virtual', but real and solid. It has practical limits and potentials that have to be respected, while teaching that anyone can create anything. You can be a representational Lego artist, meticulously following instructions and making accurate models, or an abstract one. It really is liberating stuff: shapeshifting, metamorphic. And now I am off to play with it.